All across the heartland, farmers are getting their equipment ready for planting season. It’s a critical period; if you are going to maximize the value of your crop, you better get the seed in the ground during the two- to three-week optimal planting window. And if your tractor breaks down during that window, you better get it fixed — fast.
For too many mechanical breakdowns, a fast fix is a lot harder than it should be. Tractor-makers lock farmers out of repairing their equipment by withholding necessary software tools, forcing farmers to use a dealer technician. That can lead to repair delays and equipment downtime of days to weeks, putting farmers’ crops–and their ability to make a living—at risk.
Whether you own a tractor, a smartphone or a dishwasher, you should be able to fix your stuff. That’s the call of the Right to Repair movement, which has brought farmers together with consumers and even hospitals to call for an end to manufacturer-imposed repair restrictions. People from across the country and across the political spectrum endorse this commonsense solution to a wide-ranging problem. Even President Joe Biden has weighed in, making Right to Repair a part of his 2021 executive order to increase competition across the economy.
For years, our organizations have campaigned for a legislative fix that would guarantee farmers’ right to repair. The momentum we’ve built and the pressure we’ve applied were surely a factor in John Deere and the American Farm Bureau Federation announcing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in January, which promised to provide farmers with repair materials.
But the Deere agreement — as well as the nearly-identical MOU that CNH Industrial signed in March — fail in two key ways. Neither provide comprehensive access to the required repair software nor, as agricultural law experts explain, are they enforceable.
As a result, we have continued our push for legislation. And, on Tuesday, we notched a major victory: the Colorado General Assembly passed the first-ever agricultural equipment Right to Repair bill. Introduced bipartisanly by Colorado Reps. Ron Weinberg, R-Fort Collins, and Brianna Titone, D-Arvada, House Bill 1011 now awaits Gov. Jared Polis’ signature.
That’s a big deal for Colorado farmers such as Robert McCall. Robert and his father, both trained mechanics, own and operate a farm in Yuma, on the state’s eastern plains. When their hay baler stopped working in 2019, it took multiple service calls from the dealer technician, a conversation with a higher-up at John Deere, and more than two weeks to get the problem fixed.
To replace a $500 part, the McCalls had to pay the dealer roughly $6,000 and lost an estimated $5,000-$15,000 to downtime.
Robert McCall said farmers don’t have time to sit around for a dealer-authorized rep to show up with a special laptop to figure out the problem.
“In agriculture, time is money. I can’t afford to wait for the technician to drive 90 miles just to reset an error code,” he said.
Right to Repair laws could save U.S. farmers about $4.2 billion per year by reducing downtime and inflated repair costs like those that the McCalls experienced. That’s according to a new PIRG report based on a survey conducted with NFU.
Passing Right to Repair legislation is the right thing to do for farmers and consumers. The Consumer Right to Repair Agricultural Equipment Act is a huge step in the right direction.
But the roughly 2 million U.S. farms not in the state of Colorado are still on the outside, looking in. We need other states to pass this legislation and bring Fairness for Farmers. We need Congress to enact Right to Repair bills like those championed by Sen. Jon Tester, Rep. Victoria Spartz and Rep. Joe Morelle last session.
Come next planting season, we’re hopeful that more farmers will have everything they need to fix their tractors. We’ll need to fix our laws first.
Kevin O’Reilly (@kevin_oreilly7) leads the Public Interest Research Group’s work on agricultural Right to Repair. Rob Larew is president of the National Farmers Union.
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