Having working equipment is vitally important to a farm’s success. Without proper equipment, daily tasks cannot be completed and efficiency is reduced due to a heavier reliance on manual labor, a costly endeavor especially during the pandemic when profits are already down.
But what happens when a piece of machinery, like a tractor, breaks down and needs to be fixed? Currently, farmers have to find the nearest dealership or call the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), load the machine onto a trailer, drive to the facility, and pay ridiculous prices for repairs they could theoretically complete on the farm or by independent contractors.
Most modern tractors have a digital lock preventing anyone from tampering with the software that controls the settings. However, OEM’s are not required to provide the digital key to farmers when they buy a tractor. If a farmer wanted to fix their own tractor or hire an independent repair person to complete the repairs, they could not. Even though they own the machine.
This may sound absurd, but manufacturers have redefined ownership to monopolize the repair market; John Deere has even claimed that farmers are only “leasing” their equipment instead of being treated as the rightful owners they are. This refusal to provide essential repair tools forces farmers to be reliant on the manufacturers and simply generates more revenue for the company. If farmers cannot afford to dish out the money to get their equipment repaired at the OEM, it can cost thousands of dollars each day in lost revenue. If a tractor breaks down during harvest time, this critical timing could cost a farmer months worth of revenue. There is a solution to stop this exploitation of Pennsylvania farmers, though: the Right to Repair.
The Right to Repair movement is calling on state legislatures to require OEMs to sell the same replacement parts, specialized tools, diagnostic software, and repair manuals that their dealers and partners have to consumers and third party repair technicians. Right to Repair legislation would give farmers the freedom to choose who repairs their equipment. They could make repairs on their own, use an independent repair shop, or bring their equipment to the OEM. Farmers would be able to make financially wise decisions for their farm and would be given independence from big OEMs. Passing right to repair legislation would not only help farms succeed, but would also stimulate local economies through the patronage of independent repair businesses.
Nationwide, Right to Repair bills have been introduced in over 20 states and more are expected to follow. In addition to numerous state officials, businesses, and community members, the Right to Repair has been endorsed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, which represents over six million farmers in the US.
Those that oppose the Right to Repair argue that legislation would create safety hazards and allow farmers to change the functionality of their tractors. The end goal for Right to Repair, however, is no different than independent mechanics or fixing your car at home. It would be unfair to ask car owners to send their vehicle to the manufacturer every time it needed a repair, so why are tractors any different? Like cars, we simply want the proper tools and replacement parts to be available to owners and mechanics. Farmers want to keep their tractors running and have the freedom to make the best decision for their farm, which requires access to the digital keys to access their tractors’ software. Concerns about releasing propriety information and opening the door for hacking are unfounded, overcomplicated arguments made by the industry to intimidate farmers.
Pennsylvania has stepped up as one of the most recent states to support Right to Repair legislation in order to protect our consumers and farmers. The Digital Fair Repair Act was introduced in the PA House of Representatives by Rep. Austin Davis (D-Allegheny) in April. So far, the bill has garnered 16 bipartisan cosponsors and has received support from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PennLive along with a group of 50 small businesses and other stakeholders from across the state. If passed, this bill would restore repair choice to thousands of farms in Pennsylvania. It is vital for our state representatives to support this legislation in order to protect Pennsylvania farmers and their livelihood. I urge our PA State Representatives to cosponsor the Digital Fair Repair Act HB2326.
Lindsay Johnston is a Pennsylvania native and a campaign associate with PennPIRG.