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American Farm Bureau Reaffirms Support for Right to Repair

By Kevin O'Reilly
Advocate, Right to Repair Campaign

Largest farmer organization in U.S. passes a resolution to support their members’ ability to fix their own farm equipment 

 

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which represents almost 6 million member families across the United States, voted decisively yesterday to endorse their members’ ability to fix their equipment when it breaks. In doing so, they set clear guidelines on what kind of policy they think will solve the problem.

“This resolution is important. It sets the expectation for farmers to have all necessary repair tools, the same as the dealership has,” said U.S. PIRG Right To Repair Campaign Director Nathan Proctor. “The Farm Bureau has been a staunch supporter of the Right to Repair and this vote reinforces the importance of this issue to their membership.”  

The national vote comes on the heels of the Nebraska Farm Bureau’s nearly unanimous vote in favor of Right to Repair last month, as well as a vote to send a resolution to the national conference. The American Farm Bureau vote puts support for Right to Repair in its official policy recommendations.

“Farmers have been fixing their equipment for generations and need to continue to do so to remain profitable,” said Willie Cade, a Repair.org advocate and Farm Bureau member. “Today’s vote is a national demonstration of the need for a solution that helps everyone involved.”

U.S. PIRG’s Right to Repair campaign advocates for policy changes to provide consumers with the parts, tools and information they need to fix their devices -- whether farm equipment, consumer technology, or household appliances -- when they break.

Farmers and the fix

A successful crop requires adhering to tight planting and harvesting windows. When a farmer’s equipment goes down, he or she needs it back up and running as soon as possible.

But as agricultural equipment manufacturers have interwoven software into the everyday functions of machines such as tractors or combines, farmers need new digital tools to diagnose, calibrate or restart those vehicles. Settings that used to be adjusted by a crank or knob now involve electrical systems that have problems that require electrical tools to fix. However, manufacturers do not provide farmers with the digital tools, specifically the diagnostic software, needed to fix equipment when it breaks.

Jared Wilson, a Nebraska farmer, told Proctor about a particular time that his fertilizer spreader stopped working. He said his lack of access to necessary diagnostic software prevented him from fixing a failed valve himself. Instead, he explained, he had to wait 32 days for the dealer to identify the problem and make the repair, wasting valuable time. Wilson estimates that he loses $15,000 to $20,000 each day he does not get seed in the ground.

“I’ve never really had that feeling of helplessness before,” Wilson said. “One of the things that’s frustrating is that… if we had access to the technology that John Deere has access to, I know that we could make these repairs ourselves.”

Diagnostic software is a particular problem for farmers. Only manufacturers, dealerships, and affiliated field technicians have access to it, locking farmers out of the repair process.

“I just don’t understand why I can’t have access to the same things the field technicians have,” Wilson said.

Industry repair options not enough

Manufacturers have proposed alternatives to Right to Repair legislation, in which they would provide certain parts and information to farmers. Tuesday’s vote signaled that farmers do not view these proposals -- which some have described as halfway measures and stall tactics -- as a realistic solution to their problems.

Instead, the Farm Bureau approved specific guidelines for the policy they will accept. We have yet to get the official language, and will update this blog as we learn more. We do know that farmers called for changes, “that guarantee the farmer/owner and an independent repair technician access to that information, parts and tools needed to make repairs, which includes the ability to reset the operating system.”

The language voted on was likely very similar to the resolution the Nebraska Farmers Bureau passed last month.

We support the implementation of comprehensive right-to-repair legislation or a negotiated written agreement between ag producers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). This legislation or agreement must:

- Be enforceable;

- Guarantee farmer/owner and independent repair technician access to the information, parts and tools that are available to dealerships, including, but not limited to, the ability to reset the operating system, acknowledging pricing structures may be different for farmers/owners vs. independent repair technicians.

The diagnostic and repair information and tools must be fairly priced and delivered in a timely manner;

- Include all OEM equipment, regardless of age, model or years in use at the time of effective date;

- Differentiate between repair (the restoration of hardware to its original intended function) and illegal modification;

- Not require any agricultural equipment owner to agree to any contract that removes existing rights; and

We would support an agreement which grants farmers/owners and independent repair technicians access, similar to the agreement reached in the automobile and light truck owners’ industries. Absent progress on an agreement, we would consider supporting legislation achieving the same.

These specifications come at a time in which industry is pressuring farmers to accept their “R2R solutions.” Farmers are making it clear that those “solutions” are not good enough.

“We need a good faith conversation and the support of our legislators to guarantee farmers will have what they need to fix their equipment,” Cade said. “Farmers are speaking up -- now it’s time for legislatures to listen.”

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