Farmers worry John Deere strike, supply chain woes will impact their harvesting


EAST MOLINE, Ill. (NewsNation Now) — Farmers and Deere & Co. suppliers are worried about what the strike at the tractor maker’s factories will mean for their livelihoods.

More than 10,000 John Deere employees have been on strike for seven days at 14 Deere factories in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Colorado and Georgia after the United Auto Workers union rejected a contract offer. The longer the strike continues, the greater the impact will be on the communities around the plants.

Getting parts and equipment has been an ongoing challenge for John Deere dealers for the past couple of years. But, if the worker strike continues, it could make parts ever harder to get.

“It’s just going to be equipment going down and not being able to fix it, like I say without robbing other equipment, salvaging, maybe some of the equipment they have already to keep a particular machine going. It’s not going to be good,” said Stan Schaal, a salesman.

“Parts are always a concern. It could be a simple bearing to a complex computer board,” said Jeff Thompson, a farmer.

While it may not be the busiest time for commercial and lawnmower sales, that’s a different story for farmers and ag product sales.

“This time now coming into winter is the typical time where we pull the planters out of the storage, and we bring them into the shop, and you start going through. I know I need to do some stuff to mine; I didn’t do it last year,” Thompson said. “It’s like parts were a little touchy to get so I can make it another season, so pretty much you have to do there a difference between want to do things and I want things and what I need to do to get the job done.”

Lance Lillibridge, who farms in eastern Iowa near Cedar Rapids, said he worries about not having parts should his John Deere combine break down.

“We have a lot of big equipment out here that we’re using to bring in a harvest, and if a part breaks down that we can’t get, we’re done,” said Lillibridge, who is also president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association board.

“It’s a matter of downtime with their equipment, plain and simple. If they have breakdowns and don’t have the parts to repair that, that puts everybody in a real bind,” Schaal said.

A struggle that has been going on for over a year.

“If this combine were to blow up and have a major accident, it would be very difficult to find one to replace it with, you know, because there is none on the lots and same for tractors and other major pieces of equipment,” Thompson said.

At John Deere equipment dealer Sloan Implement in Fulton, Illinois, store manager Eric Maloney said the business is doing the best it can to manage through the strike, as well as supply chain problems related to the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, the dealer has been relying more than usual on repairing parts instead of replacing them.

“We’re going to just keep right on forging ahead as best we can,” Maloney said.

Union workers told NewsNation they were told to stockpile inventory as much as possible in anticipation of the strike. NewsNation reached out to John Deere, and they said they’re resuing negotiations with the union and they’re “fully committed to keep our operations, including our parts distribution center up and running to support those farmers.”

Union workers said the stock supply wouldn’t last long, and they won’t back down.

The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate KELO contributed to this report.

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