Farmers with unfavorable opinions on the right to repair (R2R) battle controversy are good at summing up their thoughts in a few words:
- Corporate greed
- A power play for equipment
- An excuse to increase sky-high hourly service rates
- Anti-trust, anti-monopoly concerns
- A ploy to squeeze out independent repair shops
- Manufacturer/farm bureau “agreements” are a joke
- Far-reaching federal government control (vs. states)
- It’s my machine — I’ll decide who can repair it
Many of these growers maintain that R2R opponents have ulterior, self-serving motives. They aren’t “looking out” for the best interests of farmers.
Yet a recent survey of our grower audiences showed two-thirds see R2R as a major problem, such as these three farmers explain:
- A Colorado farmer bought a $300,000 used Steiger tractor and lost 3 days for repairs while seeding wheat. The tractor was out of service until a service tech finally spent 20 minutes adding a few lines of missing computer code and wrote out a bill for $950.
- A combine in Kansas kept dropping into idle. It took 5 days before a service tech arrived for what was a simple fix. This Kansas grower estimated his losses at $85,000 per day due to poor weather conditions that delayed harvest.
- When a high horsepower tractor died, its sophisticated transmission made it difficult to transport to the dealership. Eventually a tech determined the stereo sound system radio, which was on the same module that powered the engine, had shorted out. This led to a 4-day loss of work during the critical planting season for an Indiana grower — all due to a “creature comfort” — and an estimated $18,000 loss in yield.
Other results from our survey indicated 73% of growers expect to be able to make major equipment repairs in their own farm shop. Yet when asked if they would invest $3,000 to obtain the necessary repair software from manufacturers to diagnose tractor and combine repair needs, only 21% would do so.
Only 19% of growers felt manufactures and dealers should have the legal right to protect their sophisticated repair technology rather than sharing it with farmers and independent repair firms.
Slap in the Face
Growers don’t mince their words in regard to manufacturers calling the shots on R2R rules. Claims that farmers are incapable of managing and repairing their own equipment is a slap in the face to many growers. Many feel that when they pay millions for their tractors and combines, they’ve earned the right to do their own repairs or use a reputable independent shop.
“R2R opponents aren’t looking out for the best interests of farmers…” – Frank Lessiter
Overwhelmingly, farmers want to be able to troubleshoot equipment concerns, evaluate the error code messages and replace defective parts themselves. While catastrophic breakdowns that require the dealer’s attention will occur, farmers want to hire whomever they want to get a machine back up running as quickly as possible.
While many repair situations don’t require highly trained technicians, growers admit that the use of more components rather than individual parts will require computer recalibration.
These farmers argue that there are geographic areas that do not have enough dealer infield support personnel to repair equipment during busy times. After poor experiences with service technicians, several growers say they could watch a training video and make the repairs themselves with more confidence than a tech who is only there for the paycheck and is not vested in the specific equipment or farming operation.
Several farmers said it is time for the federal government to look at manufacturers who are withholding repair information in regard to monopolistic and anti-trust violations. Another concern is charging huge sums for manufacturer R2R materials to independent shops that are fully capable of handling repairs and maintenance.
A number of farmers said they would prefer having the cost of the repair software, training and service manuals added to the equipment’s purchase price. They say it’s frustrating to have a low-cost sensor malfunction during planting or harvest and then wait several days for the dealer to even get the job on its schedule.
Battling State-By-State Rules
Many growers feel the recently signed American Farm Bureau Federation agreements with manufacturers are merely a sham. They see these pacts as nothing more than an attempt to dictate R2R terms on the federal level rather than dealing with a patchwork of state-by-state rules.
While farmers want to do more of their own repairs, some say the bigger benefit is allowing third-party mechanics to work on equipment at a lower cost than dealers. Some growers have better relationships with their local repair shops, a byproduct of dealer consolidations where techs are stretched thinner and thinner with the same number of farmers to service.
“Two thirds of growers see R2R as a major concern…”
The independent repair shop model has the ability to put more time on growers’ clocks vs. waiting for dealer techs to arrive, plug their laptop computers into the tractor, find the problem in minutes and be on their way — while the farmer loses days or weeks of productivity.
A Controversial Issue
It’s a complicated issue, but with tech time costing $100 or more per hour, today’s R2R controversy pits dealers and manufacturers against farmers, and even some manufacturers vs. shortline manufacturers and dealers too. Profitable crop production boils down to carrying out dozens of critical practices from planting through harvest during shorter windows of opportunity, which will become even more important in the years ahead due to the need for more efficiency and dealing with climate change.
Manufacturers and dealers must also be willing to deal with the changing environment that farmers do. If restricted to repair technology, growers will find new ways to solve the problem, including doing business with the manufacturer who listens and steps up to deal with these concerns. Growers see this as a two-way street and believe they should not have to play only by the manufacturer’s rules when they’ve invested millions in their machinery fleets.
Read the Farm Equipment's Editors Debate Right to Repair
- Right-to-Repair Battle Heats Up: R2R is a controversial topic we felt needed extensive coverage and a subject that the general ag media doesn’t appear to have the courage to report on due to worries about picking sides with the big equipment makers and their advertising budgets. Frank Lessiter breaks down the controversy in this staff column. Read more...
- Growers Speak Up on Right-to-Repair Concerns: The content that follows presents a unique vantage point in all of agricultural media. Here, the content leaders of the two divisions – and on each side of the chasm – express their respective audience’s arguments on this R2R debate. Read more...
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