Federal legislation introduced last week by US Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Michigan) aims to unravel a corporate monopoly on equipment repairs—and save farmers time and money.
MICHIGAN—Legislation introduced last week in the US House of Representatives aims to ensure that farmers and ranchers have the freedom to fix their own broken equipment—or at least be able to take their stuff to a more convenient and affordable repair shop for the fixes.
The Agricultural Right to Repair Act—sponsored by US Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Michigan) and three other lawmakers from Colorado, Virginia, and Washington State—would establish a “comprehensive legal framework” for farmers, so they can more easily fix their own stuff.
“Having strong, enforceable laws that grant farmers and ranchers the Right to Repair the equipment they own is common sense—and the recently introduced Agricultural Right to Repair Act will accomplish just that,” said Bob Thompson, president of the Michigan Farmers Union.
When farmers need to repair their equipment, it often requires access to software and other tools that are expensive, tightly regulated, and only available at a limited number of dealerships and authorized repair centers. It’s an intentional, monopolistic model that helps 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.
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.
“In farming, a tight window to plant or harvest is a fact of life. If my tractor breaks, I need to fix it—and fast,” Michigan farmer Dennis Kellogg said in a statement provided to The ‘Gander this week. “But equipment manufacturers are preventing farmers and independent mechanics from completing certain repairs on our tractors and combines, forcing us to go to the dealership.”
Slotkin’s Agricultural Right to Repair Act offers a long-sought 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.
The bill would also require equipment manufacturers that don’t have all the necessary repair tools available to provide “sufficient information” needed to independently recreate the tools. It also gives the Federal Trade Commission the ability to enforce the requirements nationwide.
“As our country’s independent family farmers and ranchers are gearing up for the fall harvest, it should be evident that lawmakers at both the state and federal levels need to take up our call for the Right to Repair,” Thompson added.
In addition to the Michigan Farmers Union, the federal legislation has also been endorsed by the National Farmers Union, the US PIRG Education Fund, and the Farm Action Fund. A recent Progress Michigan poll also found that 81% of Michigan voters support the legislation.
Similar legislation is also pending in the state House of Representatives. 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.
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, too—including deals that have given 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 state or federal legislation would ensure those handshake-type deals are legally enforced.
The state bill was referred to a committee at the end of May and hasn’t resurfaced for a hearing.
In related news…
In March, Attorney General Dana Nessel called on Congress to further protect farmers, as well as other consumers in Michigan by passing more expansive “right-to-repair” legislation at the federal level that would also include repairs for automobiles and other digital electronics.
“The monopoly on repairs hurts consumers,” Nessel said.
In a letter signed by attorneys general from 27 other states and territories, Nessel called for the passage of three pieces of proposed federal legislation that were introduced but failed to advance within the last year: The Fair Repair Act; the SMART Act; and the REPAIR Act.
The legislation would also reform copyright laws, raising the bar for what it takes for manufacturers to file patent-related lawsuits against companies that produce parts for repairs.
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