MOUs Expand Right-to-Repair to 70% of Ag Machinery Sold in US

May 23, 2023 by Dan McCue
MOUs Expand Right-to-Repair to 70% of Ag Machinery Sold in US
(Photo via Pixabay)

WASHINGTON — Two new agreements reached between the American Farm Bureau Federation and agricultural equipment manufacturers represent a dramatic expansion of farmers’ and ranchers’ right to repair their own farm equipment.

The memoranda of understanding with manufacturers AGCO and Kubota, announced Monday, follow earlier agreements the federation reached with John Deere and CNH Industrial brands earlier this year.

Combined, the four agreements cover roughly 70% of the agricultural machinery sold in the United States, said the Washington-based advocacy group, which also serves as lobbyist and insurance network for the ag interests.

“Farmers and ranchers urged us to find a private sector solution to the challenges of repairing their own equipment,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall in a written statement.

“These agreements represent ongoing efforts to ensure farmers have access to the tools necessary to keep their equipment running, and to keep food on the table for families across America,” Duvall added.

But the American Farm Bureau Federation is not alone in advancing and securing the right to repair equipment for America’s farmers and ranchers.

In Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis recently signed a bill into law making his state the first to require manufacturers to provide the necessary manuals, software, tools and parts to farmers who want to fix their own tractors and combines when they break down.

And lawmakers in at least 16 other states have introduced similar legislation, including Vermont, where on May 5 the state House of Representatives voted 137-2 to guarantee the right to repair ag and forestry equipment.

Democratic Colorado state Rep. Brianna Titone, who sponsored her state’s latest right to repair law, told The Well News via email that her effort stemmed from years of complaints from farmers who worried that having to wait to get on the schedule of a manufacturer’s authorized repair professional could put a whole year’s crop or worse at risk.

At the same time, as has happened in other parts of the tech-heavy consumer culture, increasingly complex computers and other systems made problem equipment impossible to fix without reliance on manufacturers who were loath to give up their trade secrets or even a modest version of their repair manuals.

“The increase in the sophistication of all computerized equipment has been a wonderful thing for automating processes and adding precision to a variety of tasks,” Titone wrote. “However, over the years that led to farm equipment becoming, essentially, a computer in the field with nearly every component connected to it.

“What’s happened as a result is that if an issue arises, the installed computer will sense this and display a fault which can disable the machine,” she continued. “Unfortunately, diagnosing the actual program requires special software, some of which requires a pricey subscription. 

“At the same time, the equipment manufacturers have learned that they can nickel and dime an equipment owner through controlling the repairs,” Titone said.

“So what we’ve seen is manufacturers installing ways to prevent the owners of this equipment from making repairs by ensuring they are the only ones who possess the tools, software and codes to authorize a repair.

“This has resulted in long wait times for often costly repairs,” she said. “Even something as simple as clearing a fault with a code can cost a farmer days and thousands of dollars,” Titone said.

To illustrate, the state representative pointed to the experience of Danny Wood, a Colorado farmer who had to pay a tech to come out to his property and enter in a code twice because the machine stopped working when the fault occurred. 

“He was charged $950 for each visit even though nothing was actually faulty,” Titone said.

“When a farmer experiences down time from waiting, it can cause crops to not be planted or harvested in time, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars of lost revenue,” she added.

Though such monopolizing of repairs by manufacturers hurts all farmers, Titone said the situation is particularly difficult for farmers in especially rural areas miles from any meaningful development.

“It may well be that they find the closest equipment dealer to them doesn’t sell the brand they own,” she said. “As a result, they may have to travel hundreds of miles to get service, or require a tech to do the same.”

Despite the fact her bill won’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2024, Titone said the effect of its being signed into law is already being felt.

“What it’s done is really get the conversation started again,” she said.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, front, waits to sign legislation that forces manufacturers to provide the necessary manuals, tools, parts and even software to farmers so they can fix their own machines, during a ceremony outside the State Capitol in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“This concept has been introduced by 16 states this year alone. However, in previous years it’s been introduced dozens of times and each time it has failed.

“After so many failures, it’s easy to feel as if you’re at a dead end,” she continued. “What my bill has shown is that there is a trail to success.

“The success of this new law will show what’s possible and inspire states to keep up their efforts to pass these bills,” she said.

Titone said another effect her bill will have in the short- and long-term is that it will force manufacturers to establish ways to accommodate the law.

“Once they realize that there is a way to coexist with this new model, there may be additional talks about expanding access through other MOUs,” she said. “When my Wheelchair Right to Repair law (HB22-1031) took effect on Jan. 1 of this year, at least one customer requested parts and tools which caused these to become available to consumers.”

The earlier bill Titone referred to was Colorado’s first-ever consumer right-to-repair bill to pass into law, much to the benefit of people who use powered wheelchairs. 

On a side note, the first state ever to pass a right-to-repair law was Massachusetts, which did so in 2012. It did so as a citizen’s initiative, also known as Question 1, which appeared on the Massachusetts 2012 general election ballot as an initiated state statute. 

The proposal would require vehicle owners and independent repair facilities in the state to have access to the same vehicle diagnostic and repair information made available to the manufacturers’ Massachusetts dealers and authorized repair facilities.

It ultimately passed on Nov. 6, 2012, garnering 86% of the votes cast. However, the state Legislature still had some work to do.

Months before Massachusetts voters went to the polls, in July 2012, the state Legislature enacted its own version of the law. That meant once the ballot measure passed, the two bills had to be reconciled. It was ultimately signed into law on Nov. 26, 2013.

The following year, a number of industry groups, including the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers signed a memorandum of understanding based on the Massachusetts law that committed the vehicle manufacturers to meet the same requirements in all 50 states.

Flush with the success of her wheelchair bill, Titone said she quickly settled on farmers as another group for whom having a right-to-repair would have a significant impact.

Her effort soon garnered the support of Republican state Rep. Ron Weinberg, and a companion bill was soon sponsored by Democratic state Sens. Nick Hinrichsen and Janice Marchman.

But even with some bipartisan support, the legislation’s passage was far from a certainty.

Manufacturers initially pushed back hard, arguing that forcing them to share more detailed information necessary for repairs could expose proprietary information.

A number of equipment dealers chimed in, saying that having authorized service professionals do repairs provided both manufacturers and state regulators with transparency over the nature of repairs and adjustments being made to farm equipment.

They went on to say that having people do their own repairs could put operator safety and efforts to address climate change at risk.

In the end, momentum was on the proponents’ side, and at the bill signing Polis said he was “proud” its day had come.

“This is a commonsense bipartisan bill to help people avoid unnecessary delays from equipment repairs. Farmers and ranchers can lose precious weeks and months when equipment repairs are stalled due to long turnaround times by manufacturers and dealers. This bill will change that,” he said.

Off course agricultural equipment and wheelchairs aren’t the only subjects of right-to-repair campaigns.

The rise of Apple — and Steve Jobs’ penchant for proprietary everything — led to a nationwide push to gain access to the innards of iPhones, a process that even required proprietary tools. 

In 2022, the company capitulated, launching a “self-service repair” scheme giving customers the ability to replace their own batteries, screens and cameras of recent iPhones.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the extraordinary demands it placed on the health care system came a sustained drive to gain the same right-to-repair from hospital ventilator manufacturers.

Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden directed the Federal Trade Commission to step up its right-to-repair programs and enforcement efforts.

But not everyone is looking to their state legislature to address the issue. According to Mike Tomko, a spokesman for the American Farm Bureau Federation, the group’s members “prefer a private sector solution rather than a legislative one.”

Democratic Colorado state Rep. Brianna Titone, (Photo from Twitter)

Under the terms of the federation agreements with manufacturers, equipment owners and independent technicians will not be allowed to “divulge trade secrets” or “override safety features or emissions controls or to adjust agricultural equipment power levels.”

In a statement provided to The Well News, a spokesman for John Deere and Co., one of the largest manufacturers of farming equipment in the world, said, “John Deere supports a customer’s decision to repair their own products, utilize an independent repair service or have repairs completed by an authorized dealer. John Deere additionally provides manuals, parts and diagnostic tools to facilitate maintenance and repairs.”

Those sentiments were echoed Monday by representatives of AGCO and Kubota, both of whom manufacture a range of agricultural products.

“AGCO’s farmer-first focus guides us in everything we do, and we support farmers’ ability to repair the equipment they own,” said Barry O’Shea, the company’s vice president of customer support, in a written statement.

“We are dedicated to being their most trusted partner for smart farming solutions, and this MOU with [the] Farm Bureau is an outcome of that commitment,” he said.

Todd Stucke, senior vice president of marketing for Kubota Tractor Corporation, said he too was pleased “to ensure our customers are empowered with the information and tools needed to safely maintain, diagnose and make repairs on their own equipment.”

Titone said she believes the adoption of the Colorado law will “reinvigorate the fights in other states,” and that one legislative success will lead to another and still more after that.

“Once the manufacturers have granted one state’s law, the infrastructure will be there to accommodate everyone, so this gives manufacturers fewer reasons to say this can’t be done or that the consequences will be undesirable,” she explained. “The proverbial dam has been broken, so I expect to see some movement in the right-to-repair space over the next year or so. 

“I’m eager to see how the year ends and what new laws find their ways into the statute books,” Titone said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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  • Agriculture
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