Right-to-Repair: Equipment is Only Yours Until it Breaks Down

Posted on: April 24th, 2024 by

It’s spring planting season, and every farmer is eager to get into the field as soon as conditions allow. No one wants to watch their neighbors planting acre after acre while they’re stuck in the machine shed with broken equipment.

With the increased technological sophistication of farm equipment, however, repairs are no longer as simple as a few wrench twists or some baling wire. Can you or your local independent mechanic fix your equipment yourself, or is your only option to go to the dealer’s service center to get it repaired on the service center’s timeline—and at whatever price it may choose? The answer to that question might depend on right-to-repair.

Right-to-Repair Support Sign

The right-to-repair movement in farming seeks to ensure that farmers and independent mechanics have access to the parts, tools, software, and information they need to repair farm equipment. It’s one aspect of the broader right-to-repair movement that spans from cars (where strong right-to-repair laws already exist) to consumer technology such as phones and tablets. Especially given the increased technological complexity of modern farm equipment, without access to the right parts, tools, software, and information, it can be impossible to fix a newer tractor or other piece of farm equipment.

This rubs self-sufficient farmers the wrong way. If you’re handy and used to fixing things yourself, or if you have a favorite local mechanic who treats you right, the idea that only the dealer is able to fix your equipment is revolting. It’s your equipment—but if you can’t repair or modify it to suit your needs, then it doesn’t quite feel like it’s your equipment.

While manufacturers certainly enjoy the profits they earn from repairs, they tout safety, sustainability, and innovation as justifiable reasons to restrict repair rights. Of course, these same issues could have been raised about farmers’ ability to repair and modify their equipment before manufacturers began restricting repairability, but manufacturers only raised these arguments after proprietary technology gave them the ability to impose these restrictions. Cars have similar safety, sustainability, and innovation concerns as farm equipment, but car right-to-repair laws have not resulted in unsafe, polluting cars harming society while innovation in new vehicles stagnates. In short, manufacturers’ arguments against farm right-to-repair appear to be pretense for maintaining profitable monopolies on repair services.

Legislation vs Memorandums

Farmers and their allies are pursuing improvements in farm right-to-repair through several avenues. In 2023 more than 30 state legislatures, including Iowa’s, considered right-to-repair legislation (some including and some excluding farm equipment), but right-to-repair legislation was only enacted in Colorado. On the national level, Congress considered the Fair Repair Act in 2021, but it did not pass, highlighting the difficulties in the ongoing struggle against repair monopolies.

Outside of legislation, the Farm Bureau has negotiated memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with five of the largest equipment manufacturers to give farmers and independent repair shops access to information, tools, and parts to enable them to repair those manufacturers’ equipment and find equipment breakdown solutions for farmers. Those MOUs came into effect at various dates in 2023, and it is not yet clear what effect, if any, they have had on breaking the manufacturers’ repair monopolies.

Finally, several farmers have sued John Deere in federal court, claiming its restrictions on right-to-repair violate federal antitrust laws. Those cases are part of multi-district litigation that has been in progress for nearly two years now, and resolution does not appear imminent.

What’s a Farmer to Do?

First, get your spring planting done! If you run into breakdowns, have right-to-repair in the back of your mind as you get your equipment back up and running. Would this have been cheaper, easier, or faster if I or my mechanic had better access to proprietary parts, tools, software, and information? When you have a chance, test out the Farm Bureau’s MOUs. Can you actually get the parts, tools, software, and information to allow you to repair your own equipment if you ask these manufacturers? Can your local mechanic?

More generally, contact your legislative representatives, both state and federal, and encourage them to support right-to-repair laws and break repair monopolies. Without legislation, progress on right-to-repair depends on the continued goodwill and cooperation of equipment manufacturers. At any time those that have signed MOUs could withdraw from them and stop cooperating, or even stop complying with the MOUs without withdrawing from them. The MOUs also do not bind any manufacturer that has not signed one. Only state or federal legislation can fully protect your right-to-repair.

If you have the opportunity to test one or more of the Farm Bureau’s MOU agreements, we would like to know the outcome of your experience! Please call or text our office, or drop us an email through our website link below. (We will keep your identity anonymous, if you wish, should we publish a later update to this blog entry and cite your account in it.)


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Categories: Farm Business, Legislation, Politics

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