A farmer’s right to repair their own equipment has been a hot topic in agriculture for a few years. The basic premise is large equipment manufacturers are keeping farmers from performing their own software diagnostic repairs or hiring independent engineers to do them. Twenty states have introduced agricultural right to repair bills just this year. Simply said, this is a grassroots farmer-led issue. The goal is simple; allow independent repair shops and individual farmers the ability to purchase diagnostic software and manuals to save money by either trouble shooting problems themselves or allowing the ability to hire skilled but less expensive independent mechanics. This will lead to a reduction in time lost in the field and potentially, an increase in the quality of the crop harvested.
The biggest game changer for farmers and ranchers is in the Centennial state. A right to repair bill has finally been passed in the Colorado state legislature. It is now on the governor’s desk to be signed. This is the first state to pass such legislation, but hopefully not the last. The Colorado state house bill was a bipartisan sponsored bill from both the House and Senate. It passed the state House and had a few changes in the state Senate. It passed by wide majorities in both houses. State Senator Nic Hinrichsen was quoted in the publication, Colorado Politics, and said if you can’t repair something that’s yours, do you really own it? He said that he would argue no, which is why the legislation is so important. This is not a political battle. This is another fight in a long list of battles between family farmers and big ag. It seems it is always producers who get squeezed for the benefit of corporate profits. This will not only help Colorado farmers and ranchers, but producers from other states will now have the ability to order the needed diagnostic software and manuals from Colorado equipment dealers.
In Montana, this issue has been brought up in the legislature the past two sessions. During the 2021 session, it made it through the House committee and was headed to the floor for debate. This is when the three major farm equipment companies, John Deere, Case IH, and New Holland, flew in their lobbyists and the pressure was put on; two of these companies are foreign-owned. This bill went from passing through committee to being squashed like a bug by the big three equipment manufacturers.
There has been some give by equipment manufacturers prior to the Colorado right to repair law, but it has been very weak. John Deere signed a Memorandum of Understanding with American Farm Bureau Federation, which has no enforcement provisions. This would allow AFBF members who own John Deere equipment to purchase software and manuals for repairs. The biggest problem with this deal is that AFBF must promise not to be involved in any public lobbying for Right to Repair bills nationwide. This also does not help AFBF members who own other brands of equipment. AFBF is a major farm group, their help can be instrumental in passing similar laws in other states as well as federal right to repair legislation. Memos of understanding are great for setting guidelines on how a deal will proceed, everyone knows what is expected of them and the other parties involved. However, an MOU is not a legal document. We need laws like Colorado is passing to ensure farmers and ranchers have options to repair their own equipment.
As I mentioned big ag equipment companies came to Montana two years ago and put as much money and pressure as they could on the Montana state legislature to kill a right to repair bill. I am just glad that Colorado has the strength and common sense to realize that being on the side of family farmers and ranchers is the right side to be on.
The writer is the vice president of the National Farmers Organization. He is a cow/calf rancher in Montana.