John Deere monopolizes repair process, FTC complaint alleges – Crain's Chicago Business

When Missouri farmer Jared Wilson’s equipment system malfunctioned, he was unable to test the hydraulic pressure himself because he didn’t have access to John Deere’s software diagnostic tool. He had no other choice but to turn to a Deere “authorized technician.” He says that his machine sat there for 32 days—32 days that Wilson could not prepare his land for planting.
The increasing integration of software into farm equipment has allowed manufacturers to take greater control over the repair process, locking farmers out of making certain repairs on their own tractors. To empower farmers, like Jared, with the repair tools they need to operate their farms, Illinois Public Interest Research Group and farmer advocates filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against John Deere recently over repair restrictions that make it hard to obtain software and data necessary to repair Deere equipment.
The complaint alleges that Deere is violating antitrust laws by withholding software codes necessary for repairing tractors and other farming equipment. By forcing Deere equipment owners to only use Deere repair services, Deere is using its market dominance to create an unfair monopoly on repair.
Deere’s dealership consolidation practices further reduce repair choices for farmers. In Illinois, dealership mergers result in approximately one Deere chain for every 6,000 Illinois farms. Dealership consolidation leads to almost no competition between dealership networks within the same county, which leaves few or no choices when farmers need to repair their tractors.
The FTC could bring immediate relief to Illinois farmers. The FTC’s enforcement power means that it can force Deere to make needed tools available. The FTC also has the subpoena power to leave no stone unturned in investigating the extent of Deere’s anticompetitive practices.
Shareholder advocates have tried warning Deere of the potential for FTC actions and have called for Deere to give an account of their anticompetitive repair policies. 
“There is now a tsunami of right-to-repair legislation, potential action by the Federal Trade Commission on restrictive repair practices, a presidential order that specifically calls out concerns about tractor repair and mounting bad press facing Deere,” said shareholder advocate Andrea Ranger. “As investors, that’s a great deal of risk for us to take on.”
Deere has the opportunity to address its Right to Repair issue before legislation, lawsuits and FTC enforcement come crashing down on them. Deere should take a proactive action to pre-emptively lift repair restrictions, and everyone, especially farmers, would be better off for it.   
David J. Lee is an associate at Illinois Public Interest Research Group.
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