Ag Daily: Right to Repair legislation could finally fix farmers’ frustration

by Janelle Hulme

This week, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana introduced his Agriculture Right to Repair Act, which would finally guarantee farmers the right to repair their own equipment and end current restrictions on the repair market.

With advanced technology now being incorporated into production agriculture, it has become more and more difficult for farmers and ranchers to fix their own equipment, hurting the bottom lines of both producers and local non dealer-certified repair shops. Tester’s legislation will combat the issue of right to repair by requiring original equipment manufacturers to make it easier for farmers to make these repairs and continue doing business in rural America.

“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,” said Tester. “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. They need to be able to repair their own equipment, and this legislation will secure them that right.”

The full text of Tester’s legislation can be read here, but the highlights are that it tackles consolidation in the repair market specifically by requiring equipment manufacturers to:

  • Make available any documentation, part, software, or tool required to diagnose, maintain, or repair their equipment.
  • Provide means to disable and re-enable an electronic security lock or other security-related function to effect diagnostics, repair, or maintenance.
  • Permit third party software to provide interoperability with other parts/tools, and to protect both the farmer’s data and equipment from hackers.
  • Ensure that when a manufacturer no longer produces documentation, parts, software, or tools for its equipment that the relevant copyrights and patents are placed in the public domain.
  • Ensure parts are replaceable using commonly available tools without causing damage to the equipment, or provide specialized tools to owners or independent providers on fair and reasonable terms.
  • Return data ownership to farmers. Manufacturers currently collect and sell all the data generated by farmers, and this data is the farmers’ “secret sauce” for how they conduct their business.

“Everyone needs to be able to fix their stuff – or they have to throw it away and buy new, or go without. This applies most acutely to farmers and ranchers, where the weather is fickle, rural locations are at great distances from help, and doing without means losing entire crops,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, Executive Director of The Repair Association. “There are no good reasons for preventing equipment owners from fixing their purchases – only bad excuses wrapped in the pretense of making farmers safer and more secure while creating unfair and deceptive repair monopolies that only benefit the manufacturer.”

The legislation will also empower the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to treat any violations of the above provisions as an unfair or deceptive act. It also grants the FTC authority to promulgate regulations necessary to carry out this bill.