A bill recently introduced in the US Senate aims to end some current restrictions on the agricultural repair market, improving the ability of farmers to repair their equipment independently.
The Agricultural Right to Repair Act was introduced in February by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, and has since been strongly supported by the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG). According to the text of the bill, equipment manufacturers would be required to make available certain documents, parts, software and tools relating to electronics-related agricultural equipment.
“Like everything else in our modern lives, tractors, combines and all kinds of agricultural equipment run on software,” MassPIRG Director Janet Domenitz said in a recent webinar, where she presented the research group’s latest report, Deere in the Headlights II. . “The implementation of new technologies should help farmers increase their yields and make their operations more efficient. …but manufacturers withhold certain software tools needed to repair agricultural equipment.
This often leads farmers to rely on dealerships for such repairs, she said.
“That means they have to deal with repair delays that can threaten the viability of their crop and… affect their bottom line and their livelihood, all while paying what the dealer wants to charge,” Domenitz said.
The Deere in the Headlights II report analyzes dealer data from the nation’s leading agricultural equipment manufacturers, including John Deere, Case IH, AGCO and Kubota.
“What we found is that dealer consolidation makes this problem worse,” she said. “Simply put, dealer consolidation further reduces farmers’ repair choices, further exacerbating the problems they already face from repair restrictions.”
Sean Kane, founder of Safety Research & Strategies – and a part-time farmer in eastern Massachusetts – said from his experience that many farmers seek out older machines because of the challenges associated with repairing newer machines. .
“Technology brings a lot of promise and a lot of advances that can be helpful, but at the same time if you can’t get things done and you have to rely on a dealership and a process that you don’t have no control — and no ability to fix it on your own — it’s going to end in disaster,” Kane said.
In Wendell, Anne Diemand Bucci, co-owner of Diemand Farm, said at this point the Mormon Hollow Road farm is spared the fact that it runs mostly on older equipment.
“New tractors have computers,” she said. “It prevents farmers from doing their own repairs. … At some point it will affect us.
And that’s why the Right to Agricultural Repair Act is so important, Domenitz said.
“Right-to-repair reforms would provide farmers, independent mechanics and even technicians from competing manufacturers with access to physical and software tools to fix their things and get back to work,” Domenitz said.
As for the major dealership consolidation, Domenitz said it’s not something she likes to see happen.
“I think it’s a drag when conglomerates take over and they put a lot of small businesses out of business,” she said. “We’re all in favor of the little person…to be able to make a living helping their neighbors…in small communities.”
Gideon Porth, owner of Atlas Farm, said dealer consolidation has already had an impact on his farm in South Deerfield.
“When I started farming in the valley, we had a number of local repair shops, and they either closed or consolidated,” Porth explained. “The large companies that are operating now are difficult to manage.”
Porth said while he was unaware of the Farm Right to Repair bill, “it would be a welcome thing.”
“We used to rely on a few local dealerships that closed,” he said. “It certainly had an impact – we can’t wait six months on parts.”