As federal lawmakers mull legislation that would open up vehicle-data access to consumers, there’s a growing movement in many states to allow farmers to repair their own equipment and tractors.
According to public-interest group PIRG, at least 16 states are considering Right to Repair bills covering farm equipment – a movement that mirrors the automotive aftermarket’s ongoing Right to Repair efforts. In Michigan, for example, there are multiple bills in play at the moment.
On May 24, Michigan state Sen. Joseph Bellino and Rep. Dale Zorn introduced a set of double bills in both chambers that would give Michigan farmers the right to repair their own equipment and tractors.
“This is about standing up for our local farming families and making sure they have the tools they need to fix their own equipment quickly and affordably,” said Bellino, a Republican in Monroe, Michigan. “Michigan farmers are too often prevented from repairing their own agricultural equipment, or taking it to a locally owned repair shop, because large manufacturers withhold the complete set of tools and software necessary to make timely repairs. These bills will assure hard working farmers will have access to everything needed to repair the equipment they own.”
On May 25, Michigan state Rep. Reggie Miller introduced House Bill 4673, which would ban manufacturers from restricting farm-equipment maintenance to authorized service providers.
“Giving farmers this right is common sense,” said Miller, a Democrat in Van Buren Township.
‘A Private-Sector Solution’
The state-by-state movement is happening in spite of the fact that the American Farm Bureau Federation has signed multiple memoranda of understanding with major machinery manufacturers to ensure farmers’ right to repair their own equipment.
The first one came in January, when the Farm Bureau and John Deere announced an agreement that “formalizes farmers’ access to diagnostic and repair codes, as well as manuals … and product guides.” It also ensures that farmers will be able to purchase diagnostic tools directly from John Deere and receive assistance from the manufacturer when ordering parts and products, according to the federation.
Since January, the federation has announced additional agreements with CNH Industrial Brands, Kubota and AGCO that, when combined, cover roughly 70% of the agricultural machinery sold in the United States, according to the Farm Bureau.
“Farmers and ranchers urged us to find a private sector-solution to the challenges of repairing their own equipment,” Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said in May. ”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.”
Right to Repair advocates are skeptical.
After the American Farm Bureau Federation announced its memorandum of understanding with John Deere in January, the Montana Farmers Union declared that the agreement “doesn’t fix the issue.”
“John Deere realizes that farmers and the public want to have the right to repair, but the concessions they have made in the most recent MOU aren’t enough,” Montana Farmers Union President Walter Schweitzer said.
Schweitzer asserted that Deere failed to adhere to a 2018 memorandum of understanding that increased farmers’ right to repair. He called the current agreement a “distraction” to disarm Right to Repair proponents and assuage the mounting national pressure for John Deere without fully rectifying the issue.
“Clearly the MOU is meaningless because there’s no enforcement of the agreement in the language, and precedence has shown that John Deere doesn’t honor similar MOUs,” Schweitzer said.
The agreement stipulates that farmers and independent technicians have access to manuals, diagnostic tools and training, for a “fair and reasonable” cost.
“What might be a reasonable cost to a multi-billion-dollar corporation could be significantly higher than it is for a farmer who is trying to pay off the debt on a piece of equipment they’ve purchased from John Deere,” Schweitzer said.
In February 2022, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, introduced the federal Agriculture Right to Repair Act. Since then, the bill has languished in Congress.
“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,” Tester said when he introduced the bill. “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.”