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Government, Politics & Issues

Right To Repair Mandate From Biden Could Help Farmers Fix Their Own Equipment

Paul Treffer, a tractor mechanic near Lexington, Nebraska, replaces a bearing on a Case-IH combine. Independent repair shops would have more freedom to fix farm equipment under "Right to Repair."
Grant Gerlock
/
Harvest Public Media
Paul Treffer, a tractor mechanic near Lexington, Nebraska, replaces a bearing on a Case-IH combine. Independent repair shops would have more freedom to fix farm equipment under "right to repair."

In the mounting battle between manufacturers trying to protect their technology from intellectual theft and customers who want more freedom to fix things when that technology breaks down, the Biden administration has won some gratitude in farm country.

Early last month, President Joe Biden issued an executive order telling the Federal Trade Commission to let individuals and repair shops fix products — from six-figure tractors to smartphones — rather than only turning to manufacturers.

Biden has essentially sided with the “right to repair” movement that forces manufacturers to grant access to diagnostic equipment, information and parts to consumers or repair shops.

Farmers have been particularly vocal about right to repair because they’ve long been accustomed to fixing an old combine or fertilizer spreader to keep it running.

“If farmers are out in the field and there is weather threatening, if there is a storm coming and their tractor breaks down, two, three days' wait for a manufacturer technician is simply not an option,” said Kevin O’Reilly, who heads the right to repair campaign for the left-leaning Public Interest Research Group. “They need to be able to get under the hood and fix it themselves right away.”

It’s not just about fixing it themselves, some farmers said. It also has to do with having options for who can fix something when it is broken.

“The John Deere dealership in my area owns 21 stores from Topeka, Kansas; to Harrison, Arkansas; to Rolla, Missouri,” said Mark Blackwell, a cattle farmer from Brookline, Missouri. “So if you own a John Deere tractor, you’re going to take it to one of their stores.”

Opponents of the right to repair in the agriculture industry say the move will reduce innovation by making it easier to steal companies' technology and will put operators' safety at risk.

“Modern tractors include better safety and emission features, in accordance with the law, to keep farmers and the public safe,” rancher and former Missouri state Rep. Warren Love wrote for the Missouri Times. “But ‘right to repair’ legislation would allow third-party bad actors to steal, modify, or disable safety features that could put farmers at risk.”

Biden’s executive order encourages a move toward right to repair policies but is limited to actions the Federal Trade Commission could take.

It would take state or federal legislation to make it the law. Missouri and Illinois are among the 27 states where right to repair bills have been introduced in legislatures, but so far, none of the bills has passed.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

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