5 Reasons Michigan Farmers Want Lawmakers to Let Them Fix Their Own Stuff

A man on a Kubota tractor in the vineyard at The Round Barn Winery Distillery and Brewery. (Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

By Kyle Kaminski

September 7, 2023

Michigan farmers want state lawmakers to go up to bat against corporate monopolies that are making it overly difficult—and expensive—to repair their own equipment. 

MICHIGAN—Legislation pending in the state House of Representatives aims to ensure that Michigan farmers and ranchers have the freedom to fix their own broken equipment—or at least be able to take their stuff to a nearby repair shop for more convenient and affordable repairs.

House Bill 4673 (also known as the Michigan Agricultural Equipment Repair Act) would require that all agricultural equipment manufacturers in Michigan provide the tools, parts, and diagnostic information needed for repairs at a “reasonable price” to both farmers and local repair shops.

And for many Michigan farmers, they view the legislation as a way to make their repairs more convenient and affordable—and finally get rid of a decades-long monopoly that tractor and equipment manufacturers have had on their repair practices across the state of Michigan.

Here’s the Deal:

Manufacturers of agricultural equipment don’t always make it easy for farmers and ranchers to complete their own repairs. The diagnostic software and parts used in those closed systems are often restricted only to licensed repair shops—and that’s by an intentional, monopolistic design.  

Controlling the market on repairs (in addition to sales) can help larger corporations rake in higher profit margins, while simultaneously inconveniencing farmers and stifling competition from smaller businesses that could offer the repairs at a more reasonable cost.

And for decades, Michigan farmers have argued that the restrictions have prevented timely repairs and raised their costs, as well as hurt the environment and threatened local agriculture.

The Agricultural Equipment and Repair Act offers a solution—specifically by forcing all manufacturers and their repair centers to turn over the essential tools, parts, manuals, and other necessary items for repairs to smaller, independent shops, as well as to farmers themselves.

Michigan farmer Joanne Galloway is the executive director of the Center for Change, an advocacy group based in Northern Michigan. In an interview with The ‘Gander this week, she said the legislation would enable more farmers to complete their own repairs on their own equipment closer to home (or at home) for a fraction of the cost charged by repair centers.

The bill was introduced in May by state Rep. Reggie Miller (D-Van Buren Township) and was referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, where Galloway expects it to resurface this fall. 

Here are five reasons why Michigan farmers think the bill should become law:

It’s more convenient. 

When Galloway took over her family farm in the Upper Peninsula, she was lucky to live within a short drive of a licensed Kubota tractor repair center. But when she needed her most frequently used John Deere tractor fixed, it was a 2.5-hour drive to the nearest approved repair shop.

And time is money, especially for farmers. 

“There’s a reason for the phrase ‘make hay while the sun shines.’ That’s serious,” Galloway said. “Imagine having a window of time and good weather to cut a bunch of hay. And then imagine on day two, a big sprocket breaks in your baler—and then you’re looking at a dealership that’s more than two hours away, and they don’t even have every part you need.”

Galloway said making tools and repair equipment (including diagnostic software) available to farmers and independent repair providers would create new opportunities for farmers to obtain easier, more affordable repairs without needing to rely on a limited number of service centers.

It’s more affordable.

The Agricultural Equipment and Repair Act would also require that all agricultural equipment manufacturers (with a few exceptions) provide all the manuals, tools, and equipment needed for repairs to both farmers and independent repair shops at a “fair and reasonable” cost.

Galloway said the high costs associated with manuals and parts have effectively forced farmers to rely exclusively on authorized repair centers, which are then free to charge their own exorbitant fees for repairs. One manual for one tractor set Galloway back about $750, she said. 

And even for small fixes, the bill can be a small fortune for farmers.

A recent survey from the US PIRG Education Fund found that the average farmer loses about $3,350 per year, specifically because manufacturers limit their ability to fix their own equipment. 

That translates to an estimated nationwide cost to farmers of more than $3 billion a year

“As a fourth-generation family farmer, I’ve seen up close how wealthy corporations unfairly raise prices on products and equipment I need to grow food,” Bob Thompson, president of the Michigan Farmers Union said in a statement. “The state legislature has an enormous opportunity to deliver for independent farmers, ranchers, and rural farming communities.”

Helping farmers helps everyone. 

With just under 10 million acres of farmland, Michigan is home to about 48,000 farms.

Those farmers are responsible for producing more than 300 different agricultural commodities—including tart cherries, blueberries, dry beans, and cucumbers for pickles. 

State data shows the food and agriculture industry contributes nearly $105 billion a year to the state’s economy, with livestock (including dairy) taking the largest share. All told, about 805,000 Michiganders are employed in food and agriculture—about 17% of all workers in Michigan.

Galloway said anything to help farmers will have a ripple effect across the state’s economy.

“Farmers grow our food. Without farmers growing our food and without them being able to be profitable, we’re going to be in a really dire situation,” she said. “Some of the lowest income people in the state are farmers. Anything we can do to help them belongs at the top of the list.”

Laws are better than handshakes. 

Recent agreements between manufacturers like John Deere and Kubota and the American Farm Bureau Federation have attempted to make progress on the right-to-repair issue—including deals that give farmers and ranchers the right to fix about 70% of the agricultural machinery sold in the United States, according to the Farm Bureau Federation

But because those “memorandums of understanding” aren’t solidified in state or federal law, they’ve been criticized by agricultural advocacy groups in recent reports as “non-binding pinky swears that fail to guarantee comprehensive repair access to independent repair shops.”

The legislation would ensure those handshake-type deals are legally enforced in Michigan.

It’s common sense. 

A recent Progress Michigan poll found that 81% of Michigan voters support the legislation. The Michigan Farmers Union—and at least 30 other agricultural organizations and farmers across the state—also penned a joint letter to lawmakers urging them to pass the legislation this year. 

Jennifer Silveri, the co-executive director of Michigan Food and Farming Systems, said the changes are “imperative” to the well-being of all farms, regardless of their size or scale.

“Farmers cannot afford to waste time, energy, and exorbitant amounts of money hauling their tractors hundreds of miles to dealer repair shops during the harvest season,” she said. “Let farmers and local mechanics fix their equipment close to home and at much lower prices so they can spend their time, energy, and money doing their job feeding our communities.”

For the latest Michigan news, follow The ‘Gander on Twitter.

Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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