LINCOLN–Nebraskans voiced their stance on a bill that would give agriculture equipment owners greater access to tools needed to do their own repairs.
Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth introduced the Agricultural Equipment Right-To-Repair Act, a bill that would give farmers access to all the tools needed to fix their own ag equipment. People packed the room for the Judiciary Committee’s public hearing Feb. 26.
“We need to ask ourself, would these farmers have driven here today if this was not an issue?” Brandt asked the Judiciary Committee, clarifying that the intention of the legislation was to function as “a bill of rights” for farmers and independent technicians to purchase the same repair tools available to dealerships at an equivalent price.
With the modernization of farming equipment, newer combines and tractors have become digitized control centers. Sensors, firmware, microchips, touchscreens and webs of wiring have created the need for access to diagnostic tools and replacement components. But finding out what the fix is can be a challenge.
“I simply want to have access to all the diagnostic features of the equipment, to be able to perform repairs in a timely manner,” said Jerrad Stroh, a farmer from Juniata. “During the compressed seasons, there’s not enough technicians to go around, sometimes you’re on a waiting list.”
Tom Schwartz, a farmer from Bertrand, was adamant that he has the ability to repair his vehicles but that issues with software can create roadblocks.
“The tractor has to accept that new component. It’s gotta be told it’s OK, it’s compatible, it’s gonna run, and that’s got to be done through a computer program,” he said.
Manufactures, dealerships and industry representatives voiced opposition to the bill. They highlighted their investments in manufacturer-certified repair programs.
“We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year making sure our technicians are well trained, particularly through John Deere’s training school,” said Kevin Clark, co-owner of AKRS Equipment Solutions, a John Deere certified dealership with 27 locations in Nebraska. AKRS employs 700 people in the state.
The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce issued a statement on Feb. 23 opposing the bill warning that repairs attempted by untrained personnel could lead to “some very significant personal consequences,” and said the law would give away software source code that is manufacturers’ intellectual property.
“We listened to the dealers and manufacturers to address their concerns,” Brandt said.
The senator specified that the bill doesn’t grant farmers access to the underlying programming language, known as source code, but rather the parts of the surface-level software needed to return equipment to a functional state.
“There are still those manufactures that will be against any right-to-repair legislation no matter what,” he said.
The legislation drew endorsements from agricultural and repair organizations. Lance Atwater, a board director with the Nebraska Farm Bureau, gave the bureau’s approval saying that the bill addressed farmers’ and ranchers’ concern that “farm-equipment manufactures have maintained exclusive control over equipment, information and technology.”
Willie Cade, a bureau member and board director at repair.org, noted that after Massachusetts passed an automotive right-to-repair law in 2012, automotive manufacturers agreed to a national plan to implement Right-to-Repair. Vern Jantzen, vice-president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, added the union to the list of proponents.
“I like the option to support my local repair shop,” Jantzen said.
Opponents pushed back against the idea that repair tools and personnel are hard to access. Grant Suhre, a John Deere customer support manager, said that “there is varying levels of access up to and including the same access the dealer has.”
“There will never be a time that you won’t be able to look it up if you have the right information,” Suhre said. He clarified that if necessary error and override codes weren’t listed in the owners’ manual, customers could go to the online bookstore, download an app, or call customer service to access all of the codes.
Brandt disagreed. When asked how often diagnostic issues confront farmers, Brandt responded “every day.”
“I’m a farmer; I have been my whole life, and I’m 61 years old. The aggravation has only increased,” Brandt said.