Farmers have right to repair their own equipment

Published 1:07 pm Thursday, August 5, 2021

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Farmers’ mechanical expertise is hardly useful when computerized systems prevent them from repairing their own equipment.

President Joe Biden’s new executive order directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Federal Trade Commission to take actions to address unfair anti-competitive restrictions on third-party repair or self-repair of items, including restrictions that prevent farmers from repairing their own equipment.

Modern, firmware-based equipment technologies often require proprietary software to access, troubleshoot or calibrate systems, forcing equipment owners to visit a dealer for repairs and maintenance. These digital lockouts result in downtime, affecting farmers’ bottom lines and their ability to respond quickly to weather and crop conditions. 

“Farmers shouldn’t be nickel and dimed, or lose valuable time, if their essential equipment and tools break down,” Ben Rowe, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation national affairs coordinator, said. “Giving farmers the ability to perform repairs on their own farm equipment is critical, particularly at a time when hired labor and parts are already hard to come by.”

Essex County grain farmer Jay Hundley has waited up to two days for technical support when equipment software was inaccessible. 

“If you can’t plug into the software for diagnostics, it’s hard to repair anything, because it tells you where to go look, or what part to order,” explained Hundley, who finally had to hire a full-time dealership-trained technician. “I’ve heard of people waiting a week because dealerships couldn’t find enough technicians to service the machines.”

He sometimes manually overrides the error codes to finish a job.

“We can run three or four more hours until the code pops back up,” Hundley said. 

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall commented on the executive order addressing the “right to repair.”

“Farmers increasingly rely on the latest technology as they grow healthy, affordable food,” Duvall said. Duvall said AFBF will continue to work with the administration to ensure changes are consistent with grassroots policy, and farmers are provided greater flexibility to remain competitive in the growing economy.