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New 'Right to Repair' bill targets farm equipment makers like John Deere for purposely imposing repair restrictions on its products

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'It’s simple: Farmers should be able to fix their own tractors.'

Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate aims to ensure that American farmers can fix their own equipment without having to pay exorbitant costs and wait days or weeks for authorized mechanics to identify the problem and repair the machinery for them.

What are the details?

It's like if someone's car stopped working correctly and they were forced to either buy a new one or go back to the manufacturer for repairs. No do-it-yourself fixes, no third-party repair shops, no way to drive the cost of a repair down. That's what it's currently like in the farm equipment market, critics say.

Under current conditions, major equipment manufacturers like John Deere are essentially allowed to make its products purposefully difficult to repair by limiting the availability of replacement parts and putting restrictions on who gets to tinker with them.

But new legislation proposed by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) aims to change the repair landscape for the agriculture industry, and the bill is being touted as an important move for the "Right to Repair" movement as a whole.

"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 Tester in a press release issued Monday.

Tester said his new legislation would require manufacturers to make replacement parts, instruction manuals, and software codes publicly available, thus allowing farmers to fix machines themselves or take them to a third-party mechanic.

"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," he added.

Tester noted that farmers are particularly vulnerable to repair restrictions due to the nature of their work, which relies on tight windows and operates within tight margins.

"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," the lawmaker claimed.

What else?

In its coverage of the bill, NBC News noted that the farm equipment industry is far from the only one effected by such tactics.

Consumers have long complained about repair restrictions and business strategies such as planned obsolescence in the cell phone and medical device markets, as well. However, years of criticism have caused some companies, including Apple and Microsoft, to make third-party repairs more accessible, the outlet reported.

As indicated above, one notable exception to the pitfalls of repair restrictions is the car industry, thanks to a 2012 Massachusetts law that automakers later agreed to apply nationally. Proponents of Tester's bill hope that his new legislation will be signed into law and perhaps used in a similar way.

"This bill marks a major step forward in the fight to secure the right to repair. Copyright law should not prevent people from repairing things they own. This bill remedies one of the most outrageous abuses of modern copyright law by ensuring that farmers will no longer have to ask the Copyright Office for permission to repair their equipment every three years," said Kathleen Burke, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge.

Kevin O’Reilly, Right to Repair Campaign Director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, added: "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. We need to give farmers repair choices and let them get back to producing the food that goes on our tables. Farmers are asking for help — the Senate should pass the Agricultural Right to Repair Act to make it clear that they are listening."

Anything else?

It should be noted that manufacturers like John Deere have claimed they are not, in fact, imposing a litany of burdensome restrictions on farmers, and state that farmers can currently make many repairs themselves.

“We have and remain committed to enabling customers to repair the products that they buy," Jahmy Hindman, John Deere's chief technology officer, told the Verge last year.

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