Farm equipment manufacturers would be required to provide all diagnostic equipment to farmers and the Federal Trade Commission would have authority to go after companies that don’t under a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday.
The right to repair increasingly has become an issue in agriculture and other industries with state legislatures introducing bills in at least 32 states, including bills in 21 states in 2021.
Part of the problem is the equipment manufacturers currently will not allow farmers the hardware or software needed to diagnose a problem, much less repair it. So, dealers must send their teams out to the field to diagnose a problem and likely order parts, then come back out to make the repairs. There may be other complications with repairs.
With the support of the National Farmers Union and other ag groups, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., introduced the “Agriculture Right to Repair Act” designed to give farmers and independent repair shops the ability to diagnose and repair their equipment.
The bill specifically would require manufacturers to make available to farmers and repair shops documentation, parts, software, or tools required to diagnose, maintain, or repair their equipment.
The legislation would give farmers and independent repair shops the tools to disable and re-enable an electronic security lock or other security-related functions to effect diagnostics, repair, or maintenance.
Third-party software would have the ability to provide interoperability with other parts and tools if the legislation becomes law, and to protect farmer data and equipment from hacking.
The measure also would require manufacturers that no longer produce documentation, parts, software, or tools for their equipment, to place copyrights and patents in the public domain.
Tester’s bill would ensure parts are replaceable using commonly available tools without causing damage to equipment, or to provide specialized tools to owners or independent providers on “fair and reasonable” terms.
In addition, the bill would return farm data ownership to farmers. Manufacturers currently collect and sell all the data generated by farmers.
The legislation would give authority to the Federal Trade Commission to treat violations as an “unfair or deceptive” act.
“I’ve been a farmer my whole life, and I’ve seen the unfair practices of equipment manufacturers make it harder and harder for folks to work on their tractors themselves — forcing them to go to an authorized mechanic and pay an arm and a leg for necessary repairs,” Tester said in a press statement on the bill.
“Manufacturers have prevented producers from fixing their own machines in order to bolster corporate profits, and they’ve done it at the expense of family farmers and ranchers, who work hard every day to harvest the food that feeds families across the country. Farmers operate in tight windows and on tight margins, and they simply can’t afford to waste time or money bringing their equipment to dealer authorized mechanics in the middle of a season.”
National Farmers Union President Rob Larew said equipment manufacturers have “far too much control over” what farmers are “allowed to do with their own equipment, and this costs farmers time and money.”
Walter Schweitzer, president of the Montana Farmers Union, said in a statement the measure comes at a time when farmers face myriad challenges.
“Agriculture is a stressful line of work as is — we can’t control the weather, prices for our production and inputs are dictated to us by the corporate monopolies, and now they won’t let us repair our own equipment,” Schweitzer said in a statement.
“Farmers are the kind of people who’re in it for the long haul, and we expect the same from our equipment,” said Doug Crabtree, member of the Organic Trade Association Board of Directors, organic farmer and owner of Vilicus Farms in Northern Hill Country, Montana. “If your car isn’t running right, you don’t just turn around and buy another one, you fix it. It’s common sense that farmers should be able to do the same thing for their farm equipment. This legislation would ensure we’re able to freely repair our farm machinery and make the most out of that investment. Waiting for the dealer isn’t always an option. We may be several hours drive from the dealer service technician, or the tech may be another several hours in the other direction. We have to be able to do our own repairs”
In September 2018, the Equipment Dealers Association, a trade and lobbying group that represents John Deere and other manufacturers, committed to make repair tools, software and diagnostics available to the public by Jan. 1, 2021.