Right-to-Repair Gains More Attention in National Campaigns

In Iowa this week, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders shared policy ideas he believes to be answers to a slumping farm economy and distressed rural communities. In the process, he joined Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), in calling for farmers to have the right to repair their equipment.

“Some people are writing off rural America,” Sanders (I-Vt.) said. “But I come from one of the most rural and beautiful states in the United States. I will not write off rural America.”

The Sanders website is direct: “In rural America today, farmers can’t even repair their own tractors or other equipment because of the greed of companies like John Deere. As noted in Wired magazine, ‘Farmers can’t change engine settings, can’t retrofit old equipment with new features, and can’t modify their tractors to meet new environmental standards on their own’ without going through an authorized repair agent. When we are in the White House, we will pass a national right-to-repair law that gives every farmer in America full rights over the machinery they buy.”

Some of Sanders other proposals for rural America include:

  • Incentivize community ownership of farmland;
  • Allocate government funding to purchase easements to ensure land stays in agriculture;
  • Help beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers get fair access to land and resources;
  • Make government-owned farmland available as incubator farms for beginning farmers; and
  • Transition toward a parity system to guarantee farmers a living wage, which means setting price floors and matching supply with demand so farmers are guaranteed the cost of production and family living expenses.

While some of these ideas could be pandering campaign promises with little chance to succeed even if the candidate succeeds, it’s clear more than one presidential candidate has polling that shows the right-to-repair farm equipment plays well with rural voters. 

Here are three examples from this year where consumer legislation affecting farm equipment found overwhelming support in state legislatures. 

Arkansas enacted a new lemon law for farm machinery. It passed the state senate on a 31-1 vote and the house at 84-3.

South Dakota established a lemon law for farm machinery. This bill passed the senate on a 31-1 vote.

In West Virginia, a section of the state’s law regarding consumer protection on express warranties was changed by a 33-0 vote in the senate and 98-1 vote in the house to define a “motor vehicle” as any self-propelled vehicle designed primarily for, and used in, the occupation or business of farming, with a horsepower unit of 35 or greater.

Over the last two years, more than 20 states have proposed some form of right-to-repair or farm equipment lemon law.

Equipment Dealers Concerned

In meetings last month with executives of nearly all the regional equipment dealer associations, it was clear that right-to-repair and the “chipping” or “tuning” of farm equipment electronics is seen as a very serious threat.   

Matthew Larsgaard, president of the Pioneer Equipment Dealers Association, testified in opposition to a proposal in Minnesota earlier this year.

Here’s an excerpt:

“There is no question that the owners of farm equipment have the right to repair their equipment. However, neither our dealers nor our customers should be allowed to modify source code. Modifying the embedded software can create problems, such as the equipment failing to meet customer expectations, exceeding acceptable emissions levels, or possibly creating an unsafe environment for those operating the equipment and those near the equipment. Modifications also create unknown liability issues for the individuals modifying the code, dealers who take in trade modified equipment for resale, and the subsequent owners of a modified unit.”

Larsgaard’s testimony concluded: “This language requires manufacturers to provide all digital electronic equipment and service/repair parts to equipment owners and any independent repair providers at wholesale or dealer cost! This concept would not only effectively erode the viability of the manufacturers’ distribution system, it would also essentially strip all dealers of their ability to make any meaningful profit on electronic equipment and service/repair parts. It would likely crush that portion of their business. This would be especially devastating during downturns in the ag economy when there is little to no money in equipment sales.”

It’s clear that some politicians, at least for the time being, have added rural voters and their issues with equipment repairs to their stump speeches and policy papers. While they are listening, we suggest that you continue to make your voice heard, both at the federal and state level.