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article imageOp-Ed: Farmers lose 'right to repair' their John Deere equipment

By Karen Graham     Sep 19, 2018 in Technology
The "right to repair" movement suffered a serious setback this month when the California Farm Bureau Federation let the state's farmers down by signing a watered-down agreement with John Deere lobbyists.
The right to repair electronics movement refers to government legislation that is intended to allow consumers the ability to repair and modify their own consumer electronic devices, where otherwise the manufacturer of such devices require the consumer to use only their offered services or void the product's warranty.
Today, unless you live in a cave, most new cars—luxury or otherwise—come equipped with onboard computers, complicated diagnostic systems, and software that controls everything from the radio to the navigation system. You can't repair a computer, or for that matter, any electronic device with a wrench - or a smartphone with a screwdriver.
The movement started with the automotive industry. In 2012, Massachusetts passed the United States' first Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act. Basically, the act requires automobile manufacturers to provide the necessary documents and information to allow anyone to repair their vehicles.
And while the act was not passed at the federal level, the major automobile trade organizations signed a memorandum to agree to abide by Massachusetts' law in all fifty states starting in the 2018 automotive year. At the same time, many electronics manufacturers instituted systems where if you wanted to repair a device or obtain repair parts, you would have to go through one of their authorized vendors or the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).
The right to repair?
In all fairness, companies do have a point that this could lead to the release of confidential trade secrets and other intellectual property. Not only this, but companies also argued that third-parties with their confidential trade secrets would be able to reverse engineer the key components and maybe offer them at a lower price to consumers.
But the opposition also makes some good points for their case. Without the right to repair, it prevents any type of third-party competition from servicing these devices, limits other manufacturers from providing compatible parts that may offer more benefit to consumers (such as more environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes), and can stifle innovation.
And then, there's the old argument that manufacturers make things today and won't allow consumers to do their own repairs because the product was made to have a short lifespan anyway — planned obsolescence. This is why The Repair Association, representing both repair shops and consumer tinkers started lobbying for consumers right to repair in 2014.
They were able to help four states get right to repair legislation passed and now, we are ready to discuss what the heck's going on with farmers in California.
California and John Deere.
Nationwide, the Farm Bureau lobbying organization has so far been one of the most powerful groups to put its weight behind "right to repair" legislation. And it has been the farmers of this nation who have been leading the movement of late. Think about it: A piece of farm equipment goes down. What are you supposed to do? Most farmers would just fix that piece of machinery and get back to work.
New Holland Tractor that runs on biomethane
New Holland Tractor that runs on biomethane
New Holland
But John Deere and other farm equipment manufacturers have created tractors whose engines wouldn't recognize a new part until they paid a tech a few hundred dollars to drive out in a day or two and key an unlock code into the tractor's keyboard.
According to Extreme Tech in March 2017, "Whenever maintenance is needed, an authorized agent needs to come by to connect the tractor to some diagnostic software. They okay the repair and the tractor then works." It can be one or two days before a technician gets by, then there's a service call charge that runs several hundred dollars plus around $150 an hour to pay.
To get around the problem, many farmers have been turning to pirating the diagnostic software themselves. In February this year the Equipment Dealers Association promised to make a few concessions — notably, the group said Deere and others would begin to make repair manuals, product guides, diagnostic service tools and onboard diagnostics available to farmers by 2021.
The tractor display at the first Silver Willow Classic car and truck show  Mansfield  Ontario.
The tractor display at the first Silver Willow Classic car and truck show, Mansfield, Ontario.
The California Farm Bureau sat down last week with John Deere's lobbyists and the Equipment Dealers Association. But when the California Farm Bureau got up from the table, they had won exactly nothing beyond the existing nationwide concessions.
What this means is that the most powerful lobby fighting for the right to repair sold out its constituency, according to many farmers. They agreed to a manufacturer's version of the right to repair that gives farmers literally nothing that they weren’t already going to get anyway with the concessions arbitrated by the Equipment Dealers Association in February.
This happening in California could result in all kinds of repercussions over the "right to repair" movement. As Boing Boing points out, "California, it should be noted, is a particularly important state considering it’s the home base of Apple and many other electronics companies."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about right to repair, John deere, Electronics, Federal trade commission, California
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