Right to Repair?

Fair Repair Act

Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
: Farmers are used to working on equipment. But they can't legally alter software in newer models because of copyrights are owned by manufacturers. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer photo by Jim Patrico)

One of the legislative bills introduced in Nebraska's Unicameral Legislature earlier this year was titled the "Fair Repair Act" This bill (LB1072) would essentially allow owners of equipment with software the right to repair their own "stuff," this would include items like smartphones, computers -- and even farm machinery.

The bill was introduced in January, a hearing was held in February and the bill was indefinitely postponed in April. The possibility exists the proposed bill could be reintroduced in the next year's legislative session.

Nebraska is not alone attempting pass this type of legislation; several other states have explored similar laws.

I will be honest here: Although I live in Nebraska and pride myself on keeping abreast of local current events, especially those involving agriculture, I did not see anything about this particular bill until recently. Reading through the bill on the Nebraska Legislature's website (which I bookmarked in case I ever have insomnia), there is not a single reference to farm machinery in language of the bill. Maybe that is why it is slipped through most ag folk's radars undetected.

Proponents say the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Law is keeping equipment owners from performing some repairs on their equipment because it contains software on which manufacturers have copyright.

There appears to be some question, for instance, about whether a tractor's owner actually owns the software in the machinery. This situation affects any equipment with software, and currently most farm equipment manufacturers require their products have to be repaired by certified technicians.

It is a certainly an interesting debate in agriculture today.

Shouldn't farmers have the right to repair their own farm equipment, including the software? How can they own the actual machine but not own the software within the tractor/combine?

I think of couple of our friends/neighbors who farm and do repairs on most of their own farm equipment. These two have had to deal with this issue and they have taken different approaches.

I had a conversation with the one of these farmers about the issue. He told me he can fix just about anything with his older tractors himself; but he can't fix new tractors/combines with software.

He farms quite bit of ground now and he has to walk the line between being able to fix his older machinery and buying newer, more productive equipment. He has chosen in recent years to purchase newer farm machinery and has given up fixing his newest machinery.

My other friend/neighbor is a trained diesel mechanic who worked for years for a local farm equipment dealership and then went back to the family farm. He built a nice heated shop on the farm, and he now repairs farm equipment as well as farming.

He told me a few years back that tractors/combines with high hours did not bother him much (to buy for his own farm) as he can pretty much fix anything that could go wrong with them. So this is his strategy: to keep older tractors/combines running because of his knowledge of diesel mechanics.

The downside for him is that he is a fairly young guy -- around 30 years old, I suppose. This means he has many more years left in his farming/diesel mechanic career.

What happens say 10-20-30 years from now? Is he still running his older, very high hour equipment? What about his repair customers? Will he still be able to fix their tractors/combines in the future if they have newer machinery with software?

I have never asked him about if he is concerned about the future of repairing farm machinery with more of the equipment having computer components. Unless he owns or can use the high tech diagnostic equipment, I don't really know what the future holds for him repairing farm machinery independently.

On the plus side for him, he will continue to work on our dated farm equipment for many years to come. We don't have the type of farm machinery that has features like built-in software.

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

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Russ Quinn