We are still digging into a sweeping executive order signed last week by President Biden that he says will promote fair competition in the American economy.
The order covers more than 70 aspects of the economy, many applying to specific areas of agriculture. One area that readily stands out promotes the so-called “right to repair.”
We agree that farmers should not be forced to use farm equipment dealer repair services, a limitation that critics say adds thousands of dollars in expense towards the upkeep of machinery.
Farmers were among the original “shade tree mechanics.” Early equipment was simple, and repairs were easy. Until the 1980s, machines got bigger and more powerful, but the basic workings weren’t a mystery to many who owned them and most competent mechanics.
But farm equipment has become more complex over the last couple of decades. In addition to the mechanical parts that many farmers can figure out on their own, modern farm equipment is filled with sophisticated software and sensors that make it the wonder of the age. Problems with those components are impossible to diagnose and repair without equally sophisticated equipment. Those components are also among the most susceptible to failure.
Farmers say when these components fail in the field, vital field and harvest work grinds to a halt. That’s also when other farmers experience malfunctions, stressing the resources available from the local dealership. Waiting for a dealer technician costs more time, and can be expensive. Being able to repair the equipment themselves, or hire an independent mechanic, would save time and money.
“All we’re looking for is the opportunity, as the owner, to fix what we own,” Nebraska farmer Tom Brandt told the Wall Street Journal.
“Limiting who can work on a piece of machinery drives up costs and increases down-time. Ensuring farmers have the ability to perform cost-effective repairs on their own equipment will keep America’s farms running and financially sustainable,” American Farm Bureau Federation Zippy Duvall said.
The equipment manufacturers say they aren’t against farmers fixing the equipment — at least to a point. John Deere said in a press release that it sells specialized tools and diagnostic equipment to farmers and mechanics, makes schematics available and provides other services to help owners diagnose and fix their own machines.
Manufacturers take issue with allowing farmers access to the software code that makes possible all the sophisticated operations that are the selling points of modern equipment. Altering the code, even accidentally, changes the performance of the machine and can create bigger problems down the line.
It seems the ability to fix what you own includes the right to fix all the potential problems, even those involving proprietary computer code. It also seems that some things are going to be beyond the capabilities of all but specially trained technicians.
Freedom is a double-edged sword. The right to fix your own stuff comes at the risk of making an even bigger mess of it. We would advise that it be exercised with caution.