Farmers’ Fight for ‘Right to Repair’ Own Equipment Builds as More States Advance Supporting Legislation

Farmers’ Fight for ‘Right to Repair’ Own Equipment Builds as More States Advance Supporting Legislation
(Saverio blasi/Shutterstock)
Bryan Jung

U.S. farmers’ “Right to Repair” movement is gaining steam as more and more states allow the practice of allowing them to fix their own equipment.

The movement has faced opposition over the past several years, from manufacturers of products like medical devices, motor vehicles, and equipment, which contain software and telematics used for remote diagnosis and repair.

Advocates are seeking access to the products’ diagnostic software and telematics data, but manufacturers claim that such access may endanger their intellectual property rights, warranties, and violate product safety standards.

However, financial pressures on the agricultural community have pushed lawmakers in 11 states, including Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Texas and Vermont, to introduce bills allowing farmers to legally repair farm equipment.

The pending bills would require manufacturers to give farmers access to the tools, software, parts, and manuals so they can repair their own farm equipment and avoid the steep labor costs and delays that cut into their profits.

At least 27 states in total have considered or are considering related legislation.

The “right to repair” movement has expanded over the past few years to include the right to fix items such as smartphones and even hospital ventilators during the pandemic.

Last June, New York was the first state to pass a “right to repair” law, which ordered electronics makers to provide the tools needed by consumers and independent repair providers to fix their devices.

Colorado Becomes a ‘Right to Repair’ Battleground

Meanwhile, in Colorado, Democrat legislators have taken the lead in promoting the “right to repair,” while their Republican counterparts remain split between supporters of their populist-leaning constituents who want the right to repair their own machines and lobbyists from the big manufacturers who oppose the idea.

The state’s House committee on agriculture voted mostly along party lines, with nine in favor and four opposed.

Most Colorado Republicans on the committee voted against the measure, despite support from the bill’s seconder, State Rep. Ron Weinberg, a Republican.

Manufacturers argued that allowing farmers to access their software would force them to expose trade secrets, or make it easier to dangerously tinker with the software without company oversight.

They also said the bill could allow users to illegally crank up a tractor’s horsepower by bypassing the emissions controller, thereby violating environmental safety standards.

The supporters of the bill admit that it could make it easier for operators to modify horsepower and emissions controls, but that farmers are already able to tinker with their equipment and have not so because it still remains illegal.

Opponents of the bill also believe it would financially impact local dealerships in rural areas, like Russ Ball, a sales manager at 21st Century Equipment, a John Deere dealership in the region.

“I know growers—if they can change horsepower and they can change emissions, they are going to do it,” Ball told the Associated Press.

State Rep. Brianna Titone (D), one of the bill’s sponsors, said that “the manufacturers and the dealers have a monopoly on that repair market because it’s lucrative.”

State Rep. Richard Holtorf (R), who opposed the measure and is himself in agriculture, told the Associated Press that he sympathizes with his fellow farmers, but “I don’t think it’s the role of government to be forcing the sale of their intellectual property.”

John Deere and Farmers’ Trade Organization Sign Compromise

Last month, farm manufacturing giant John Deere signed a right to repair memorandum of understanding (MOU), on Jan. 8, with the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), a Washington D.C.-based farmer lobbyist group.

The agreement stipulates that John Deere will voluntarily share some parts, diagnostic and repair software, tools, and manuals through subscription or sale to farmers and allow them to conduct their own repairs.

Consumers and independent repair centers will still be forbidden from divulging certain trade secrets and are not allowed to tamper with or override emission control settings.

The price tags for diagnostic tools vary, according to the company’s website, with a one-year license for a technical manual costing as much as $3,160.

Farmers will also be allowed to hire independent technicians to assist repairs, while tractor manufacturers will ensure the timely availability of certain repair tools, without compromising safety controls and emission control requirements.

In exchange the AFBF agreed “to encourage state Farm Bureau organizations to recognize the commitments made in this MOU and refrain from introducing, promoting, or supporting federal or state ‘Right to Repair’ legislation that imposes obligations beyond the commitments” in the MOU.

If a government legislation or regulation on the state or federal level is passed in violation of the MOU, either party would reserve the right, upon 15 days’ written notice, to withdraw from the agreement.

The agreement is aimed at “continu[ing] to enhance the ability of farmers to timely control the lawful operation and upkeep of agricultural equipment” and “assur[ing] that the intellectual property of [the] manufacturer, including copyrighted software, is fully protected.”

AFBF and John Deere also agreed to a semiannual meeting to regularly assess the status of the MOU agreement.

“This is an issue that has been a priority for us for several years and has taken a lot of work to get to this point,” said AFBF president Vincent Duvall in a press release.

The joint terms of the MOU is being promoted as a potential blueprint for future agreements with manufacturers in the farm equipment industry and other sectors.

However, many state and local farm associations still took issue with the deal, saying that this is a voluntary private agreement that lacks enforcement.

White House Authorizes FTC to Pass Rules in Favor of Independent Repairs

President Joe Biden signed an executive order in 2021, pressuring the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to craft new rules to protect “right to repair” rights.

The FTC has since voted to enforce the right to repair as policy and will look to take action against any company that limits the type of repair work done at independent repair shops.

Overseas, the right-to-repair law was enacted in the United Kingdom in July 2021, while France adopted a “repairability index” for consumers in January 2021.

The Canadian House of Commons currently deliberating a right-to-repair bill that would amend Canada’s Copyright Act to ease product software repair limitations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.