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Colorado Passes First Tractor Right To Repair Law

Colorado will be the first state to require farm equipment makers to share or sell all the tools, manuals, and software that farmers need to fix their tractors and combines.

16 other states have introduced similar bills.

Colorado will be the first state to require farm equipment makers to share or sell all the tools, manuals, and software that farmers need to fix their tractors and combines. So far this legislative session, 16 other states have introduced similar agriculture right-to-repair bills as farmers criticize the ways manufacturers monopolize their product repair, increasing maintenance costs and risking debilitating delays.

Repair advocates hope that success in Colorado will prompt more state-level laws or a national resolution, whether that’s a federal law, antitrust enforcement action, or an improved memorandum of understanding with manufacturers. “However we get there, we need a solution that makes sure that every farmer has what they need to fix all of their equipment, full stop,” says right-to-repair campaign director for U.S. PIRG, Kevin O’Reilly.

Today’s farm equipment is advanced, expensive technology, made up of specialized parts and computerized components. Inscrutable error codes and software locks make it impossible for farmers to diagnose problems or activate new serialized parts without calling up authorized technicians. As dealers have consolidated their repair networks over time, farmers live farther away from authorized technicians, adding to costs and delays.

Farmers deal with tight, weather-variable time windows for planting and harvesting their crops or caring for livestock, says Chad Franke, president of the Rocky Mountain States Farmers Union. “If you’ve got a blizzard bearing down on you and you’ve got to get out and get feedstock and put out bedding for your animals and your tractor goes down, three days [to wait for a repair] is not an acceptable time frame,” Franke says.

Yet farmers often wait days for overbooked and far-off technicians to come to diagnose problems, and if they need to ship in parts, waits can be even longer. A new report estimated that more repair options could save farmers as much as $4.2 billion per year (mostly from shortening repair delays). U.S. PIRG and the National Farmers Union calculated this estimate based on a survey of 53 farmers’ equipment downtime costs and reported hourly labor rates for dealer mechanics versus independents. They found dealer technicians, on average, charge $58 more per hour than independents. At the same time, dealers struggle to hire enough technicians, Franke said, leading to systemic understaffing and more delays.

Farm groups including state Farmers Unions and Farm Bureaus have backed state agriculture right-to-repair laws since 2014. These bills, like Colorado’s, would require equipment manufacturers to make their parts, tools, manuals, and repair software available to farmers and independent repair shops on fair and reasonable terms. Colorado’s bill also ensures that dealerships cannot charge farmers more for a part if they know that the farmer or another shop will install it. The Colorado legislature passed the bill last week and the Governor is expected to sign it early next.

In addition to legislation, farm groups have sued John Deere for monopolizing repair markets and issued a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requesting the agency investigate and act against Deere’s repair restrictions and “unfair and deceptive trade practices.”

John Deere told Reuters that Colorado’s legislation is “unnecessary and will carry unintended consequences.” Farm equipment manufacturers claim that too much access to their products’ inner workings introduces safety risks, exposes their trade secrets, and allows farmers to override environmental emissions controls. (Though a report by the FTC released in May 2021 found “scant evidence to support manufacturers’ justifications for repair restrictions.”)

Despite this, manufacturers have made concessions in recent years to try and ease legislative pressures. In 2021, John Deere started selling a version of its diagnostic software for a $3,000 annual subscription. Initially, few dealers offered the software and farmers struggled to buy it, but once more did, they discovered the software did not include comprehensive diagnostics, nor did it let farmers electronically activate replacement parts.

In January, Deere went a step further and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Farm Bureau promising to share more repair tools. CNH Industrial signed a “nearly-identical” MOU two months later. In exchange, Farm Bureau agreed to end its repair legislation advocacy. Although these MOUs contain very similar provisions to the Colorado bill, repair advocates contend they lacked enforceability. CNH and Deere also reserved the right to cancel their MOU with 30 days’ notice.

Franke says the legislation was still necessary to make manufacturers legally liable for their promises and to provide confidence for independent repair shops to invest in the new tools. “We believe that before there was some teeth behind the requirement, [independents] weren’t willing to spend the money to get themselves ready to work on this stuff because the big companies could take the permissions away tomorrow,” Franke said. O’Reilly also argues that these MOUs had a limited definition of software that still cut farmers off from independently activating parts to their equipment.

Going forward, O’Reilly and other repair advocates hope to see a comprehensive solution so that all farmers, and other consumers, can have equal access to repair essentials. More states could follow Colorado’s lead this legislative session and Senator Jon Tester introduced a federal agricultural right-to-repair law. A judge or the FTC could also mandate new corporate practices if they find manufacturers’ restrictions violate antitrust laws.

O’Reilly says repair advocates are also open to negotiating a new MOU with manufacturers, noting groups like U.S. PIRG and the Farmers Union were not invited to the bargaining table for the last MOU. “We’re hopeful, given the fact that these MOUs were an important step in the right direction, that if the time comes we could work with manufacturers to make sure that the language of any sort of agreement does ensure that every farmer in every state with every kind of equipment can fix their own stuff,” he said.

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