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Farmers press for 'right to repair'

by ADAM BELZ STAR TRIBUNE (MINNEAPOLIS) (TNS) | February 1, 2020 at 1:41 a.m.

The Farm Bureau's national convention has adopted a new policy on farmers' "right to repair" their tractors and combines, ratcheting up the pressure on manufacturers to strike a deal with farmers and independent mechanics on the contentious issue.

The policy, which was obtained by the Star Tribune of Minnesota, spotlights a 2014 agreement between automakers and independent mechanics, and also introduced the threat that the American Farm Bureau Federation will support right-to-repair legislation if a deal with equipment manufacturers can't be made.

Farmers and ranchers who are members of the Farm Bureau voted on the policy Jan. 21, codifying their support for either comprehensive legislation or a "negotiated written agreement" that gives farmers and independent technicians access to the same diagnostic tools, "fairly priced," that are available to dealerships.

"Absent progress on an agreement, we would consider supporting legislation," the policy says.

Farmers' frustration over their inability to fix their own tractors is part of a larger debate over consumers' right to fix the equipment they buy -- smartphones, tractors, refrigerators, cars -- as they see fit. Modern technology in tractors often requires a call to the dealership to send a service truck to the farm to plug in a computer to identify the problem, a process that's time-consuming and irksome for farmers accustomed to fixing their own machines.

R.J. Karney, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation and the group's point person on the right to repair issue, said the Farm Bureau wants to maintain a good relationship with manufacturers and he is optimistic the two sides can come to an agreement.

"There's well-established relationships to have these discussions, and to really try to find a resolution that can solve this problem and be able to come to a solution that doesn't entail any specific legislation," Karney said. "If we're unable to come to an agreement, AFBF would consider legislation as an alternative."

Legislation has been opposed by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and was held back in 23 states last year.

The association, which represents John Deere, Caterpillar and other major manufacturers, has argued that giving customers too much access to the tools used by dealerships could result in tampering with the machines or even the loss of their intellectual property.

"We applaud the Farm Bureau for joining us in supporting a farmer's ability to repair their equipment," Dennis Slater, president of the manufacturers group, said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing our dialogue with the Farm Bureau and other stakeholders on farmers' ability to repair their own equipment, and how we can work together to address the unintended consequences of illegal tampering."

The equipment makers and the Equipment Dealers Association have made their own right-to-repair proposal, which promises to offer farmers manuals, diagnostics and other tools "for purchase, lease or subscription" by Jan. 1, 2021.

The difference between what the Farm Bureau is asking for and what the manufacturers are offering is that nowhere do the manufacturers and dealers make explicit that they will give farmers access to the same tools that dealerships use to fix machinery.

"The thing that's really important about this policy is that they defined what the goal is, and farmers are clear about what it is they think right to repair means: the same tools the dealer has," said Nathan Proctor, director of the right-to-repair campaign for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "If AEM really wants to give farmers the right to repair and provide the same software, parts and information to them that they provide to their dealerships, it would already be done."

Business on 02/01/2020

Print Headline: Farmers press for 'right to repair'

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