Michigan bills would give farmers ‘right to repair’ tractors, equipment
- A growing ‘right to repair’ movement aims to give consumers more power to fix broken stuff, and not depend on manufacturers
- Several bills in Michigan would force companies like John Deere to let farmers to fix their tractors, avoiding company-approved shops
- Backers say this promotes fairness and environmental responsibility, but others fear unintended consequences
Farmers at Faist Farms in Jackson County were planting their annual corn crop this spring when their John Deere tractor ground to a halt, displaying an error code.
Hoping to diagnose the problem, Jacob Faist pulled out the manual and looked up the code. But the manual simply said to call a John Deere technician for help.
Faist missed two days of planting while he waited for a technician to come fix the issue.
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Frustrated farmers like Faist are part of a growing “right to repair” movement across the country. They argue corporations that make everything from farm equipment to laptop computers are making it too difficult for people to repair their stuff by depriving them of the necessary tools or manuals to make their own fixes.
Some Michigan lawmakers say that needs to change.
At a House Agriculture Standing Committee meeting Wednesday in Lansing, lawmakers heard testimony on House Bill 4673, which would require agricultural equipment manufacturers to make diagnostics, maintenance, repair parts, tools and documentation available to owners and independent repair providers.
Rep. Reggie Miller, D-Van Buren Township, chief sponsor of the bill, called it a “common sense” move to expand options for farmers. She is still discussing concerns with manufacturers and their industry lobbyists, but said she is confident that a point of agreement is achievable.
Similar bills in the House and Senate include Democratic and Republican sponsors. Among them are twin bills championed by Senators Joseph Bellino, R-Monroe, with Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, and Representatives Dale Zorn, R-Onsted, with Donovan McKinney, D-Detroit.
Similar right to repair laws have been introduced in at least 16 states, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
Right to repair advocates say a corporate stranglehold on the equipment repair industry harms consumers and independent repair shops and promotes waste by forcing people to throw away easily-fixable items.
“Simply put, this bill is about making sure we have the right to fix our own farm equipment or to take our equipment to a repair professional of our choosing,” said Bob Thompson, president of the Michigan Farmers Union. “It’s about choice and fairness for farmers.”
The bill also has support from environmental groups like the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.
“We must design and build for durability, longevity and repair,” said Christy McGillivray, legislative and political director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. “This is a next step in acknowledging our economy exists within our ecosystem, which has limits.”
Opponents of the bill disagree. Some argue the real problem is a shortage of agricultural repair technicians, while others contend the bill would hinder competition among equipment manufacturers.
Yet others say they fear farmers would use their newfound knowledge to wrongfully modify machinery.
“Identifying such tampering becomes a challenge, making it difficult to guarantee the safety compliance and environmental sustainability of the equipment,” said Scott Wadsworth, sales manager at Tri County Equipment, a John Deere dealer with locations throughout eastern Michigan.
But Rep. Miller disputed those arguments, noting that the bill protects manufacturers from being forced to divulge trade secrets and other important proprietary information.
Beyond those concerns, opponents claim the bill is unnecessary. That’s because this year, John Deere and other equipment manufacturers struck a deal with the nation’s leading farm lobby that gives farmers more freedom to make DIY repairs.
Andrew Vermeesch, legislative counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau, said in an email the group “would like to see these agreements fully implemented” before considering bills to enshrine the right to repair in law.
That’s not a universal view among farmers, some of whom argue farmers need legal protections instead of a voluntary agreement.
Committee members didn’t vote on Miller’s bill Wednesday, leaving it still several steps away from potential passage.
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