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Hog Tied

Illinois group details the difficulties of agricultural Right to Repair fight

When it comes to the 'Right to Repair' battle, there are three primary fronts: automotive, consumer electronics (i.e. smartphones and tablets), and agriculture. It's impossible to say which of these is a more passionate fight, but the voices of farmers are scarcely heard, making recent statements from an Illinois PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) worth highlighting.

A new Illinois PIRG Education Fund report, “Deere in the Headlights II,” demonstrates the extent of the dealership consolidation problem, looks at the specific impacts on Illinois farmers, and shows how Right to Repair reforms could dramatically increase farmers' repair choices.

Released February 24, the research covers farm equipment manufacturers' efforts to prevent farmers from accessing the software tools they need to fix their modern tractors. Forced to turn to corporate-authorized dealers, this oftentimes leaves farmers with high repair bills and delays that can put their crops—and their livelihoods—at risk.

The research found that John Deere, which controls 53% of the country’s large tractor market, has more consolidated and larger chains than competitors Case IH, AGCO and Kubota. Eighty-two percent of Deere’s 1,357 agricultural equipment dealership locations are a part of a large chain with seven or more sites. In Illinois, there is one John Deere chain for every 5,925 farms and every 2,250,000 acres of farmland.

“Between repair restrictions and dealership consolidation, farmers are feeling hog-tied,” said Illinois PIRG associate, David Lee, “Farmers deserve to be able to choose between fixing their own tractors, hiring an independent mechanic or turning to competing dealerships nearby. Instead, many have only one dealership chain within a hundred miles that services their brand of equipment. Finding repair options shouldn’t be like searching for a needle in a haystack.”

“A lot of small- and medium-sized farm operations rely on being able to repair stuff themselves. It’s expensive to take things in, and people in rural areas might be two hours away from a dealership,” said Minnesota farmer Wyatt Parks. “I don’t like the idea that we just can’t do anything for ourselves—that we have to rely on mom and dad and big corporate America to make it all better and tuck us in at night. Just let us fix our stuff.”

Many farmers including Parks are calling for Right to Repair reforms, which would provide farmers and independent mechanics with the software and other materials required to repair modern tractors. Representative Michelle Mussman has introduced the “Digital Fair Repair Act” (HB3061), which would grant state’s farmers the Right to Repair their equipment.

“Farm equipment repair options are dwindling, and it’s a cause for concern,” said Representative Mussman. “Giving farmers a Right to Repair means the choice to take their equipment to a wide variety of local businesses. Manufacturers shouldn’t decide for farmers where they can and can't fix their equipment. It’s common sense.”

Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) also introduced the Agricultural Right to Repair Act in the U.S. Senate earlier this month, while state legislators from both sides of the aisle have authored similar bills in 18 other states so far this year.

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