Right-to-repair becomes national agricultural issue
Last updated 11/24/2020 at 12:27pm
Editor's note: Watch for an extended article on this topic in the December Farm and Ranch special edition included in the Dec. 2 edition of the Havre Daily News.
Groups and lawmakers including Montana's senior senator are pushing back against a movement to limit agricultural producers' ability to get equipment repaired.
About 2014, farm implement companies started limiting farmers' options to maintain their own equipment by limiting the resources and choice of mechanics qualified to work on technologically advanced agricultural equipment.
John Deere's website listed reasons for limiting options for equipment repair ranging from unsafe operation, disabilities in capabilities and performance, illegal changes to emission controls, lowering the cost of resale and disparate customer service.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is a strong proponent of right-to-repair. Tester has been working on providing the resources to small farmers to repair their own equipment, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, he laid out a three-plank Rancher Relief Plan in a bill to provide certainty to Montana farmers.
"Protecting the right of Montana farmers and ranchers to repair their own equipment is critical to keeping the operation running smoothly, and keeping input costs low," Tester wrote in a letter to FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson. "... Right now, everything from smartphones to tractors require diagnostic software and equipment to make repairs. However ... a smartphone and a combine are not the same, and if we continue to lump the two together when developing right-to-repair policy, rural America will bear the brunt of the impact."
And Tester is not alone.
"Farmers should be able to repair their own equipment or choose between multiple repair shops," U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in a blog post. "That's why I strongly support a national right-to-repair law that empowers farmers to repair their equipment without going to an authorized agent."
Hanson's Implement, which specializes in Case IH parts and equipment opposes right-to-repair. Hanson's Manager Keith Hartz said certified technicians are the only ones trained in diagnostics.
"Well, the electrical is one thing, the things these days, say the controllers for combines, sprayer or quad-tracks or what it might be, every diagnosis comes up on the computers." Hartz said. "There is an issue and you have to get that resolved, you'll have to get a hold of us and we'll have to diagnose it, and clear the code out."
Big Equipment Owner Ron Harmon has pushed for legislation for farmers who need right-to-repair to keep costs down.
"I've contacted some congressional people and I think it's an absolute travesty. The major companies, if you want to count Versatile, there is four. The three primary are AGCO, John Deere and Case IH," Harmon said. "All of them, in my opinion, because of a lack of competition, what has happened here is that starting about 2015, if you look at the fine print, most contracts that you will sign you do not own the rights to the software.
"The rights are maintained by the underlying company, that allows them to do the following, if you break down in the field and you are under warranty you are going to call the dealer you bought if from anyway, but even there, there are certain items that won't be under warranty, and what I have noted they have increased the price of componentry substantially higher than they were before," Harmon said.
Repair.org has been pushing for legislation that would make it possible for consumers to fix their own equipment or take it to an independent dealer, also give farmers the knowledge and tools to repair or refurbish products on their own equipment and guaranteeing property rights.