Repair Restrictions Come Home to Roost: Report Shows Farmers Want to Fix Their Own Tractors

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Manufacturers keep fed-up farmers from repairing their own equipment, highlighting need for new Senate bill

PHILADELPHIA, PA — Sen. Jon Tester (Montana) introduced the Agricultural Right to Repair Act in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, providing the latest opportunity for farmers to win their Right to Repair. The federal bill joins two Pennsylvania bills filed by Senators Vogel and Schwank and Representatives Diamond and A. Davis that are currently being considered by the state legislature. Farmers rely on their tractors and other farm equipment to get the job done, from preparing to plant through the harvest. When farmers’ equipment breaks down, they need it fixed, yesterday. But manufacturers refuse to provide farmers and independent mechanics with all the materials—particularly software tools—needed to fix modern tractors, making farmers reliant on the dealer for too many repairs. That monopolistic practice can leave farmers stuck waiting for a dealer technician and paying whatever the dealer wants to charge.

According to a new report from PennPIRG Education Fund and National Farmers Union, farmers want more repair choices than equipment manufacturers offer. Of the 74 farmers from Pennsylvania and 14 other states surveyed, 92% believe that they could save money if they had full access to fix their own equipment or could hire an independent mechanic to do it for them. 77% of respondents have opted for older equipment that doesn’t require dealer intervention to fix. And 95% of farmers surveyed support Right to Repair reforms, which would require manufacturers to provide access to all of the repair materials needed to fix modern farm equipment.

“It’s simple: Farmers should be able to fix their own tractors. But manufacturer-imposed repair restrictions allow manufacturers to determine who does the repair, when and for how much,” PennPIRG Advocate Emma Horst-Martz said. “Farmers are asking for help, and we should listen. We need to open up repair choices for farmers and let them get back to producing the food that goes on our tables.”

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“I’ve been a farmer my whole life, and I’ve seen the unfair practices of equipment manufacturers make it harder and harder for folks to work on their tractors themselves—forcing them to go to an authorized mechanic and pay an arm and a leg for necessary repairs,” said Sen. Tester. “Manufacturers have prevented producers from fixing their own machines in order to bolster corporate profits, and they’ve done it at the expense of family farmers and ranchers, who work hard every day to harvest the food that feeds families across the country. Farmers operate in tight windows and on tight margins, and they simply can’t afford to waste time or money bringing their equipment to dealer authorized mechanics in the middle of a season. They need to be able to repair their own equipment, and this legislation will secure them that right.”

“Many, if not most family farmers today are heavily reliant on machinery for some facet of their operation,” said Pennsylvania Farmers Union President, Micahel Kovach. Additionally, the tasks around a farm are very often dependent upon weather, so often has to happen within a window of time. Farmers’ livelihoods depend on being able to keep at it, even when the machinery acts up. Waiting for the dealer’s service guy to show up to fix something, often with just a few keystrokes, in the middle of the busiest seasons, could easily turn a good year bad.”

Repair restrictions are not only expensive—they’re frustrating for farmers. “I’ve been farming all my life. I’ve been around tractors all my life. So I know my way around these machines,” said Missouri farmer Jared Wilson. “The idea that the manufacturer tells me that I cannot fix my own tractor, the tractor I paid good money for, is infuriating.”

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Independent fixers can repair older-model equipment, which does not require software tools.

But opting for older equipment comes with a tradeoff. “I’m giving up 25 years of technology—I’m going backwards on equipment just so I can afford to repair it,” said Scott Potmesil, a Nebraska farmer who bought a 1995 John Deere tractor. “It’d be nice to upgrade to new stuff that my mechanic could work on. But I’m going backward.”

Farm equipment manufacturers insist that they have heard farmers’ concerns and are addressing the problem. But many farmers, including Wilson, aren’t buying it.

“My experience here in the real world of working on this stuff is that that’s absolutely not true,” he said. “I guess if you included every single thing that could break on a machine, that might be true, but there’s no way in hell that that’s true for common things that break.”

Change could come soon for farmers. Sen. Tester’s bill is just one of several potential game-changers on the horizon. Dozens of state legislatures considered Right to Repair legislation in 2021 and 2022, including SB998 and HB1152 in PA. And President Joe Biden signed an executive order in July that encouraged the Federal Trade Commission to crack down repair restrictions like those farmers face.

“It’s great to see that farmers’ concerns are getting through to lawmakers,” said Horst-Martz. “Now it’s time to finish the job and get the tools farmers need in their hands.”

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