Walter Schwietzer had a problem with his tractor in the middle of last year’s haying season. It wasn’t a complicated issue, but because software was involved, Walter had to haul his tractor into the dealership, then wait a month. The total monetary cost of the fix was $5,000. The cost of lost productivity — and the realization that he didn’t have control over the tractor he owns — was much higher.
Walter thinks if he had had the right tools for the job, he could have had his tractor up and running with a day of work and roughly $800 in parts. Instead, he spent more than six times that and spent weeks waiting when he should have been loading out hay. He lost time that he couldn’t get back.
Farmers like Walter just want to fix their stuff. But as manufacturers have built more software into modern farming equipment, they have restricted access to the software tools needed to fix the equipment when it breaks. Deere in the Headlights, a new report from the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, found that a single combine harvester can have as many as 125 software-connected sensors. That’s 125 different things that could go wrong, none of which a farmer can repair without help.
Thanks to automotive Right to Repair legislation, car owners can buy diagnostic software and tools themselves or go to an independent mechanic who has such access. As Walter’s story shows, that’s not the case for farm equipment, and that’s just ridiculous. And that’s why farmers are calling for the Right to Repair. They want to be able to access what the dealer has — software tools, replacement parts and repair manuals — at a fair and reasonable price.
This is not a new idea. Farmers have been advocating for Right to Repair for many years. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers and the Equipment Dealers Association, trade groups that include industry-leader John Deere, took notice of these frustrated customers’ efforts and offered farmers a compromise. AEM and EDA touted “R2R solutions,” which promised to give farmers what they need to fix their equipment by the beginning of 2021.
Unfortunately, farmers aren’t very happy with what manufacturers have rolled out. Instead of actual solutions, the tools manufacturers are offering are either non-comprehensive, unavailable, bundled into expensive service packages or little more than a remote “call the dealer” button that requires internet access. That means farmers are still reliant on the dealership — not to mention a reliable Wi-Fi signal in the middle of a wheat field — to fix their own equipment.
You either have an open repair market or you don’t. Right now, it’s hard to argue that farmers have any choice but to knock on a closed door and ask the manufacturer for help. It’s time elected officials give farmers back their right to repair their own equipment.
Nathan Proctor is the Right to Repair Campaign director for the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, which conducts research and education on issues in the public interest. More information can be found at www.ArizonaPIRGEdFund.org.