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Farmers fight for the right to repair

One attribute of nearly all farmers, is their innate ability to fix things. It’s ingrained into farmers as much as the dirt that runs through their veins.

There’s a drawer in the old machine shed that’s full of operating and repair manuals for various pieces of farm equipment from years gone by. Breakdowns – particularly at the most untimely moments – were, and are, part of farming.

Armed with an assortment of tools and timely curse words, I would remove the broken part, pick up the new part and replace it. Sometimes, I was back in business a few hours later, with only a little skin lost on my knuckles from slipped wrenches.

Big repairs required a call to a mechanic or the brokendown implement needed to be hauled to the dealer. But that was always the last resort. But today, the ability of the jackof- all-trade repair prowess on the farm is under threat.

When a new piece of farm equipment breaks down, major implement dealers require customers to call a dealership to send a service truck to the farm to identify the problem. The repair may even require a special tool only used by the dealerships.

The service call may not be available right away. It can cost $150 per hour, costing farmers time and money. And when crops are ready to be harvested, time is money on the farm.

That has resulted in “Right to Repair” legislation introduced in many agricultural states. Recently, the Farm Bureau at its national convention – as reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune – voted to support a policy for either comprehensive legislation, or a written agreement that would give farmers and independent technicians access to the same diagnostic tools as implement dealers.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers has opposed legislation, stating it gives customers too much access to tools that could result in tampering, voided warranties or the loss of intellectual property. A spokesman said they are willing to work with farmers to give them access to manuals and tools, “for purchase, lease or subscription.”

When I was younger, our ability to repair was limited only by our knowledge and ability. Some equipment seemed to be cursed, but farmers will always find a work around and older tractors can even be retrofitted with satellite technology used now.

Implement dealers, which have disappeared across the rural landscape along with many farmers, also need to make a living. But imposing expensive repairs on their dwindling customer base doesn’t seem like the answer. There should be a compromise of sorts, similar to what has been reached with automakers and independent mechanics.

Leaving farmers without the ability to fix their own equipment seems anti-American.

Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and won dozens of state and national journalism awards.