Equipment breakdowns are a fact of life for farmers across the country. But manufacturer-imposed repair restrictions make these malfunctions even more painful by forcing farmers to rely on their dealership for many fixes — even ones they could perform themselves with the proper information, tools, and software access.
»Related: Farmers ‘right to repair’ equipment hits 11 state legislatures
A new report released by the nonprofit U.S. PIRG Education Fund on Tuesday estimates that U.S. farmers lose $3 billion to tractor downtime and pay an additional $1.2 billion in excess repair costs each year.
“If farm equipment breaks down at the wrong time and farmers can’t get it fixed, they can be forced to watch their crop — and their profits –wither on the vine,” said Kevin O’Reilly, director of U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Right to Repair campaign and the author of the report. “Too many farmers have told me that not being able to fix their own equipment can cost them their crop and their livelihood. The answer to this problem is simple: Let farmers fix their stuff.”
Modern agricultural equipment is engineered to restrict repair access, often locking out farmers and independent mechanics. That forces farmers to turn to expensive dealer technicians for many fixes. Analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows that repair costs for farmers growing corn and soybean have nearly doubled over the past two decades. Lack of access to independent repair can also lead to weeks or months of equipment downtime, during which farmers can lose their part or all of their crop, which can be even costlier.
When his tractor broke down last summer, Scott Blubaugh, a fifth-generation farmer and president of the Oklahoma Farmers Union, was told by his dealer that it would not be able to fix the machine for nine months. A similar prognosis for a combine would be disastrous.
“You have a very short window to harvest your crop,” Blubaugh told U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “The weather can damage the crop overnight and you can actually lose an entire crop in our part of the country overnight with hail and different things. And so being able to get that crop in in a timely manner is super important.”
U.S. PIRG Education Fund and National Farmers Union surveyed 53 farmers across 14 states. The study found that 53 percent of the farmers had lost crops because of downtime after a tractor or combine breakdown. Roughly one in three farmers surveyed fear losing their family farm to such a breakdown.
Agricultural ‘Right to Repair’ reforms would require tractor-makers to provide farmers and independent mechanics with comprehensive access to repair materials — including necessary software tools — required to fix modern tractors.
»Related: Deere signs MOU on farmers’ and ranchers’ right to repair
Momentum behind such changes has grown in recent years, with President Joe Biden including Right to Repair in his 2021 executive order aimed at promoting competition across the economy and Sen. Jon Tester of Montana introducing the Agricultural Right to Repair Act last congressional session. Fifteen states are considering similar legislation in 2023.
“Farmers across the country are justified in calling for the right to repair the equipment they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on,” O’Reilly added. “They’re already dealing with extreme weather and lingering supply chain disruptions from the COVID pandemic. As lawmakers think through ways to support the people producing the food that goes on our plates — and bring down family grocery bills — enacting Right to Repair should be a no-brainer.”