You may remember a time when people performed regular maintenance and routinely did repairs on their vehicles themselves, laboring under the hood to replace a water pump or starter or other part.
These men and women were sometimes referred to as backyard or weekend mechanics, coming away from the automotive work with a sense of self-satisfaction and saving some money in the process.
Some folks still work on their cars and trucks, especially changing the oil and filter, but there’s no denying that advances in design and technology have made most of the work much more difficult, if not impossible, for the average American.
Sometimes it can be hard just to identify parts, much less locate them. We know of a man who discovered that his American-brand SUV’s battery rests in the wheel well, and that the driver’s side front tire and fender liner must be removed to replace it. Advances in technology and electronics have made it necessary to visit dealers to solve some problems. Their employees have the expertise and access to specialized equipment necessary for the job at hand.
Farmers are no different. The massive machines used in their fields also have been updated, increasing crop production and reducing waste, which is great until something goes wrong. Software is used in the operation of modern farm equipment but, unlike a car that won’t start or run well, a malfunctioning tractor or combine harvester threatens the owner’s livelihood.
That’s why the Right to Repair movement is gaining traction across the country.
A new report from Maryland PIRG (Public Interest Research Group), an independent, non-partisan organization, titled “Deere in the Headlights,” details calls to dealerships that show that software tools are often not available for sale, despite promises from manufacturers to provide them starting in January.
The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) — an industry group that includes John Deere, Kubota, Case, New Holland and others — issued a statement of principles promising to provide on-board diagnostics and other repair information starting in 2021. But calls to local dealers have shown that diagnostic tools are rarely available for purchase, according to Rishi Shah, Maryland PIRG campaign associate.
Farmers are an industrious lot, priding themselves on ingenuity that’s part of daily agricultural life. Their ancestors patched and repurposed implements to save time and money, but now their hands are tied. Farmers must rely on dealerships, turning a relatively simple task into a monthlong wait. They find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
Right to Repair legislation would provide farmers with access to the physical and software tools used to diagnose, calibrate and otherwise authorize repairs, said Shah. Maryland has introduced a general Right to Repair bill, which calls for access to repair material for agricultural equipment as well as other electronic devices such as cellphones, laptops, household appliances and medical equipment.
Other states that have introduced similar legislation include California, Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia.
Like other instances of commercial recalcitrance, the manufacturers are likely dragging their feet because there is money to be made, despite that fact a new combine harvester can run anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 without add-ons, and tractors can cost $80,000 to $100,000.
Farmers need to keep those big machines operating and their land productive. Passage of laws to their advantage would be as beneficial as sunny days and plentiful rainfall during growing season.