For the most part, agriculture in North America has survived the COVID-19 pandemic better than expected. Weather and commodity prices have played a big part in that. Perhaps the only negative we see is that the coronavirus created major disruptions in the inventory and parts supply chain. Equipment manufacturers and dealers are addressing the issue to the best of their ability. I point this out as there may not be awareness of the larger agricultural supply chain that works closely with farmers to help them operate efficiently and help produce food for North America and the world.
The relationship between equipment dealers, manufacturers and farmers is close-knit. Equipment manufacturers and dealers have a vested interest and strong desire for our farmer customers to be prosperous. We know that when farmers are successful, dealers and our communities are successful.
That is why at this time it would be unwise for a provincial or state government to disrupt the agricultural supply chain by implementing any new or unnecessary regulations on the agricultural community.
We continue to see advocacy efforts asking for the implementation of Right to Repair (R2R) legislation. In the past 3 years, we have seen attempts to pass R2R legislation in over 25 states. This issue has also crept into Canada, as it was a discussion item with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and in 2019 a Private Member’s Bill was introduced in Ontario.
To date, no R2R Bill affecting farm equipment has been passed in either country. Ultimately, that is a good thing for the agricultural community. Let me explain why.
R2R evokes a can-do spirit and common sense. Unfortunately, that’s not what R2R is really about. Cleary put, R2R proposes government-sanctioned intellectual property (IP) theft and promotes illegal modification.
Over the past century, agricultural equipment has developed to become more high tech, efficient and safer. A modern day tractor contains more lines of code than the first space shuttle and can operate autonomously. The high tech tools onboard today’s equipment allows farmers to more accurately seed, spray and harvest, while at the same time monitor the weather. All of this leads to producing a higher crop yield.
The manufacturers have invested in this new technology because our customers were asking for it. But despite the technological advancements, farmers can still perform the vast majority of repairs on their equipment. According to a June 2020 article in Successful Farming, farmers who own modern equipment can still make 95% of the repairs on their own. So, in the few cases where a farmer requires assistance for a repair, equipment dealers provide highly trained technicians who have an incentive to minimize downtime and maximize the farmer’s productivity.
At the same time, modern tractors and combines also include better safety and emission features that are in accordance with both U.S. and Canadian laws. These laws were designed to keep farmers and the public safe, while at the same time keeping the emissions standards’ laws consistent across North America.
R2R advocates have also pursued language in legislation that would make it difficult for dealers to protect their customers data such as seeding/fertilizer/spraying rates and crop yields. Would farmers like their crop production data shared with those who buy their trade-ins? We think not.
So clearly put, R2R laws would raise privacy and safety concerns, stifle innovation and remove the incentive manufacturers have to create the products that customer’s demand.
In my 25 years of working in the industry, I have yet to meet a dealer who is against a farmer’s right to repair their own equipment. In our view, the R2R movement is more about “right to modify” (R2M) than “right to repair.”
Our equipment dealer members have provided numerous examples of premature engine and transmission failures due to equipment being “chipped.” Our 2020 harvest has also seen an unusually high number of combine fires. It is in violation of both of the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) for a manufacturer, importer, distributor or dealer to remove or alter an emission device. Yet we regularly see and hear advertisements for tuning chips (to increase horsepower) or DEF defeat kits. Equipment altered from the original OEM standards runs hotter and harder and is more prone to fail. It also voids warranty, puts insurance coverage at risk, and substantially reduces the equipment’s trade-in value.
But let’s not confuse modifying farm equipment with proposed legislation on repairing equipment. It appears that the R2R movement is intentionally trying to conflate these two issues.
Make no mistake, an equipment dealer completely understands the frustration a customer has when he gets an error code and doesn’t know the extent or severity of the issue. That is why the industry has come up with a solution to prevent the need for any R2R legislation.
Dealers and manufacturers will ensure that end users have the tools they need to perform maintenance and basic repairs on their equipment and to allow them to quickly identify more serious issues which require the assistance of a dealer. Simply put, our industry commitment is to ensure that folks have the ‘right to repair’ while continuing to work against attempts to improperly modify equipment that compromise privacy, safety and emissions features. We are on track for these tools to be available by early 2021. More information on this commitment is available at www.R2Rsolutions.org.
Our dealer members are aware that the Western Equipment Dealers Assn. (WEDA) has been at the forefront of representing dealer interests on this issue. In 2019, we launched a social media campaign to get the message out to farmers that modification and tuning or chipping was just not worth the risk. But despite these efforts, we expect to see renewed activity on the R2R question when State and Provincial legislatures resume in 2021. So, we have been proactive in reaching out to the Farm Bureau and many other farm organizations in both countries to discuss this issue. We feel it is important for these groups to hear the issue from a dealer perspective.
An industry solution is always better than a legislated solution. Instead of our elected officials considering R2R legislation, they should focus on where they can really help the industry: increased rural broadband. Today’s farm equipment has the ability for remote diagnostics, but without reliable internet access in rural areas we cannot take advantage of its full capability. If governments truly want to help the industry in this area, make the forthcoming 5G technology available across all arable acres in North America.
Our farmers and the agricultural equipment industry as a whole are playing a key role as we work through the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s clear the current system is working. But R2R laws would interfere with this by adding unnecessary government regulation.
Let’s hope lawmakers realize this type of legislation would be detrimental to our farmers and the equipment industry. As we adjust to the new normal that the pandemic is bringing, and for us continue to feed North America and the world, we need our lawmakers to focus on ways that they can truly help agriculture.
John Schmeiser is the CEO of the Western Equipment Dealers Assn. (WEDA). First established in Canada in 1927 and in the U.S. in 1889, WEDA represents over 2,200 farm, construction and outdoor power equipment dealers in North America.