We’ve been following and reporting on “Right to Repair” legislation for over 2 years now, and it just keeps popping back up in my newsfeed. This time around, it was an opinion piece that appeared in Bloomberg. The author paints a picture of a Minnesota farmer battling unpredictable weather during spring planting (something we can all relate to and empathize with) with a piece of equipment that is down. According to the author, in years past the farmer may have been able to “diagnose and fix the problem with a screwdriver, or call a local mechanic.”
The author goes on to say, “But as tractors become as complex as Teslas, agricultural equipment manufacturers and their authorized dealerships are using technology as an excuse to force farmers to use the authorized service center — and only the authorized service center — for repairs. That’s costing farmers — and independent repair shops — dearly.”
The story continues saying the farmer had to wait 2-3 hours for the dealer to show up and diagnose the problem using a computer. The dealer, unfortunately didn’t have the part needed. Apparently the farmer got the tractor running using a 2x6 piece of plywood (this detail has me scratching my head. So, if you have any insights into what the problem could have been, I’d love to know).
Dealer and manufacturer consolidation are blamed for making the problem worse — “it can be 50 miles to the nearest dealership,” according to Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union. Currently, Minnesota has a “Right to Repair” bill in front of the legislature. Matthew Larsgaard, president and CEO of the Pioneer Equipment Dealers Assn. testified before the Minnesota House Commerce Committee in March. Pioneer EDA was influential in helping defeat similar bills in North Dakota and South Dakota this winter.
He says in 2018 alone, similar legislation has been introduced in 19 states. None of them passed.
In his testimony Larsgaard said, “Right to Repair advocates have repeatedly lobbied for overly-broad laws that allow access to the software that governs on-board technology on equipment. Much of the legislation seems to require manufacturers to provide information that could create access to equipment source code …
“There is no question that the owners of farm equipment have the right to repair their equipment. However, neither our dealers nor our customers should be allowed to modify source code. Modifying the embedded software can create problems, such as the equipment failing to meet customer expectations, exceeding acceptable emissions levels, or possibly creating an unsafe environment for those operating the equipment and those near the equipment. Modifications also create unknown liability issues for the individuals modifying the code, dealers who take in trade modified equipment for resale, and the subsequent owners of a modified unit.”
You can read his full testimony here. In it, Larsgaard goes through some of the dangers that could come along with the source codes for tractors and combines being altered.
I don’t need to explain to you why legislation like this is problematic to our industry. I do strongly encourage you, though, to speak up for your business and our industry. Find out what your regional association is doing if right to repair legislation is impacting your state, and then raise your hand to join the fight. No one’s trying to make the farmers’ lives any hard than they already are. But, if these laws pass those farmers could end up with some unexpected expenses and problems — ones that are a lot worse and more costly than waiting on a service tech for 2 hours.