BILLINGS — The "right to repair" is a heavily debated topic in agriculture and the Montana Farmers Union is addressing the issue of a producers’ right to repair their farm equipment by supporting legislation at the Montana Legislature.
Montana Farmers Union president Walter Schweitzer says proprietary software is preventing farmers, ranchers or highly qualified local mechanics who are willing to abide by the manufacturers’ rules from working on their farm equipment.
“Back in the day when farmers used to get together at the coffee shop and talk about our problems, almost always an issue with repairing our tractor or combine came up,” said Schweitzer.
“It's getting to be more and more of a problem because so much of this newer equipment is all controlled by an electronic control unit, a little computer inside it. Unless you have the software and the hardware to be able to identify the error codes, you don't even know where to start on repairing this equipment.”
He says that’s why MFU is supporting LC1562, sponsored by state Rep. Katie Sullivan from Missoula and Sen. Mark Sweeny from Philipsburg, which addresses the need for adequate service and repair to allow Montana farmers and ranchers to deliver their high-quality livestock and crops to market.
“Overall, the bill gives the owner the ability to purchase the diagnostic tools to make the repairs themselves, saving them time and money,” said Sullivan. “And it supports farmers who don't have time to wait for mechanics or have the extra money that they need extra money to spend just to fix possibly a small issue.”
Schweitzer says it’s also important to note that the right to repair legislation is targeted for equipment manufacturers, not local equipment dealers.
“The thing I like about the bill that Rep. Sullivan and Sen. Sweeney is proposing is it's focusing on the equipment manufacturers, not our dealers,” said Schweitzer. “Our dealers are on this. They're playing on the same team as we are. And many of them, they take their orders from basically three equipment manufacturers that manufacture all the equipment, most of which we use here in Montana.”
Farmers and ranchers can find more information about Right to Repair and even tell their own personal story by visiting montana.repair.org.
Several other states are also considering similar right-to-repair legislation for farm equipment include Florida, Nebraska, South Carolina and Missouri.