Nebraska Farm Bureau Eager for 'Right to Repair' Agreement in 2020

Dec. 30, 2019, 6 a.m. ·

Farmers are used to fixing their own machinery, but without the right software from tractor manufacturers they are effectively locked out. (Photo by Grant Gerlock, NET News/Harvest Public Media)

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The Nebraska Farm Bureau hopes to reach a deal with equipment manufacturers on the right to repair farm equipment – and if that’s not done by this time next year, they’ll pursue legislation that would force the issue.

Agricultural equipment is increasingly run by computers – that means to repair a malfunctioning tractor, you need access to the software instead of a wrench.

Nebraska Farm Bureau Policy:

Nebraska Farm Bureau supports the implementation of comprehensive right to repair legislation or a negotiated written agreement between ag producers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). This legislation or agreement must:

  • Be enforceable.
  • Guarantee farmer/owner and independent repair technician access to the information, parts, and tools that are available to dealerships, acknowledging pricing structures may be different for farmer/owners vs. independent repair technicians. The diagnostic and repair information and tools must be fairly priced and delivered in a timely manner.
  • Include all OEM equipment, regardless of age, model, or years in use at the time of the effective date.
  • Differentiate between repair (the restoration of hardware to its original intended function) and illegal modification.
  • Not require any agricultural equipment owner to agree to any contract which removes existing rights.

Furthermore, Nebraska Farm Bureau would support an agreement which grants farmer/owners and independent repair technicians’ access, similar to the agreement reached in the automobile & light truck owners’ industries. Absent progress on an agreement by January 1, 2021 Nebraska Farm Bureau would consider supporting legislation achieving the same.

But so far manufacturers have blocked access to the programs that run the equipment computers, and efforts to get the access have so far failed.

Ansley Mick is the director of state government relations for the Nebraska Farm Bureau. She says farmers, equipment dealers, and equipment manufacturers are all negotiating a possible agreement.

"Everybody's negotiating in good faith," Mick said. "And I think the understanding here is that legislative route would be kind of our last resort if we couldn't come to an agreement through these negotiations."

The Nebraska Farm Bureau recently voted to update its policy position on the issue, and included a deadline – if they don’t have an agreement by January 2021, the Farm Bureau will support legislation instead.

Mick says being unable to repair farm equipment isn’t just an inconvenience:

"For a lot of folks to experience some downtime, it can be super frustrating, and certainly time is money and it makes a big difference, especially given what agriculture has been facing the last few years," Mick said. "We just want to make sure that they have the ability to repair their equipment and get back up and running."

The American Farm Bureau Federation is likely to vote on similar strong language in support of Right to Repair agreement at its annual meeting in January.

Manufacturers are generally wary, saying farmers could bypass emissions controls – potentially leaving a dealer liable for regulatory regulations. And some cite safety concerns in wanting tractor software to stay in the hands of technicians only.

A bill in the Nebraska legislature two years ago failed to get a vote in committee. But that measure would have applied to fixing other electronics, as well – like laptops and smart phones.