Sen. Tester bill gives farmers right to repair
Equipment manufacturers say the bill is a solution in search of a problem, while Farmers Union supports bill.
While speaking recently before the White House Competition Councill, President Joe Biden continued his call for “right to repair” and explained if you own a product, from a smartphone to a tractor, you don’t have the freedom to choose how or where to repair that item you purchased.
“Denying the right to repair raises prices for consumers, means independent repair shops can’t compete for your business,” Biden explains. An executive order issued last year on competitiveness by the Biden administration supported the “right to repair” and voluntary actions followed.
Following the order’s support for the right to repair, the Federal Trade Commission unanimously announced that it would ramp up enforcement against illegal repair restrictions. Since then, large firms have voluntarily announced changes to their policies to make it easier for consumers to repair their own electronics.
Now, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., wants legislative action to address the situation. His Agriculture Right to Repair Act will guarantee farmers the right to repair their own equipment and end current restrictions on the repair market.
“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,” says 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,” Tester continues.
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, according to a statement from Tester’s office. His 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.
While some farmer and consumer groups support the bill, Kip Eideberg, Association of Equipment Manufacturers senior vice president of government and industry relations, says Tester’s bill is a “solution in search of a problem.”
Right to repair bill requirements
Tester’s legislation 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. Tester claims 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.
Tester says the legislation will also empower the Federal Trade Commission 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.
Equipment manufacturers oppose bill
AEM’s Eideberg explains equipment manufacturers have always supported a farmer’s right to safely maintain, diagnose and repair their equipment. “We agree with Senator Tester that supporting our farmers should be a national priority. When farmers succeed, equipment manufacturers succeed. We are committed to helping farmers reduce downtime and maximize productivity, but this bill undermines important regulations that keep farmers safe and protect our environment,” he says.
AEM opposes the Agriculture Right to Repair Act, however, Eideberg says AEM “will work with elected officials on commonsense, bipartisan solutions to strengthen the agricultural economy and revitalize rural America.”
Support found in some ag segments
“Manufacturers have far too much control over what farmers are allowed to do with their own equipment, and this costs farmers time and money,” adds Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union. “Senator Tester’s bill would give farmers and independent mechanics the freedom to fix their equipment in a timely and cost-effective way.”
Daniel Haley, senior legal analyst at the Open Market Institute, says the institute has made the right to repair a central component of its policy agenda and believes this bill advances farmers’ right to repair. “The Agricultural Right to Repair Act is the common-sense, long-overdue shield that farmers have been waiting for — it restores farmer access to the parts, tools, and software necessary to repair their equipment and do their jobs.”
“It’s simple: Farmers should be able to fix their own tractors,” says Kevin O’Reilly, Right to Repair Campaign Director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “But manufacturer-imposed repair restrictions allow manufacturers to determine who does the repair, when and for how much. We need to give farmers repair choices and let them get back to producing the food that goes on our tables. Farmers are asking for help—the Senate should pass the Agricultural Right to Repair Act to make it clear that they are listening,”
“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,” says 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.”
Kathleen Burke, policy counsel at Public Knowledge, says this bill marks a major step forward in the fight to secure the right to repair. “Copyright law should not prevent people from repairing things they own. This bill remedies one of the most outrageous abuses of modern copyright law by ensuring that farmers will no longer have to ask the Copyright Office for permission to repair their equipment every three years.”