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A new bill introduced in the House of Representatives this week would require manufacturers of agricultural equipment to provide farmers and independent repair shops with the tools and information they need to fix their own equipment.
The Agricultural Right to Repair Act is the latest effort to address the growing concerns of farmers and consumers about the increasing consolidation of the agricultural equipment industry and the increasing use of proprietary software and hardware that makes it difficult and expensive for farmers to repair their own equipment.
Sponsored by former auto repair shop owner-turned-congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, the bill requires manufacturers of farming equipment to provide sufficient information and tools for farmers to repair their own equipment, aiming to give farmers more flexibility in equipment repairs during critical times like harvest season. At its core, this bill seeks to strip manufacturers of their ability to employ digital locks and other technological barriers that effectively hold farmers and independent repair shops hostage.
Companies shift to quiet opposition
Whether a company says they “support repair” or not holds little significance. As Cory Doctorow wrote so plainly this week in his piece “Apple f*cked us on right to repair,” corporations are smart enough to back repair publicly and use dirty tricks to extract profit behind closed doors.
The prime example of the agricultural equipment industry’s shallow commitments to repair is the agreement that the majority of the industry signed at the beginning of 2023, which agrees to provide farmers with access to software for equipment repairs. The agreement, however, doesn’t expressly grant farmers the same access to diagnostic hardware, software, and information as their authorized repair providers. Worse, the agreement forbids the American Farm Bureau from supporting this kind of legislation, even if it would benefit them and their farms. The agreement goes even further. It actually includes an escape clause for manufacturers that would become activated if The Agricultural Right to Repair Act were to pass:
In the event any state or federal legislation or regulation relating to issues covered by this MOU and/or “Right to Repair” is enacted, each of AFBF and Manufacturer reserve the right, upon fifteen (15) days written notice, to withdraw from this MOU.The agricultural industry Right to Repair agreement signed earlier this year
Standing in stark contrast to that tepid public support for repair was a recording of a John Deere dealer openly stating its support of anti-repair tactics. The short recording, which implies that the company might use software updates to eliminate aftermarket competition, goes strongly against the pro-repair image it’s trying to cultivate. And while this recording is not direct evidence of illegal behavior, legal experts suggest that such actions could raise serious antitrust concerns, highlighting the need for an agricultural repair law.
It’s clear there is a need for the Agricultural Right to Repair Act, but there is no telling if it will get any further than its predecessors. Senator John Tester tried in early 2022 by introducing a similar bill—but it eventually died in committee, as more than 90 percent of all right to repair bills have across the country in the last eight years. This is especially difficult when Congress has split control between Democrats and Republicans. A glimmer of hope comes in the form of momentum at the state level, where repair laws have started passing through legislatures in the past year and getting signed into law. There could be potential that the emerging precedent at the state level will translate into similar federal support.
- Apple’s repair hypocrisy: Cory Doctorow writes about Apple’s use of tactics like engraving logos on parts and exploiting laws like Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to block independent repair even when it’s legal, ultimately leading to mountains of e-waste and environmental harm, while publicly supporting repair efforts. Parts pairing in Apple devices makes them effectively unrepairable, and although some states like California have passed right to repair bills, Section 1201 at the federal level remains a significant obstacle, highlighting the need for broader legislative changes.
- Toyota considers gigacasting: Toyota is considering adopting a manufacturing technique called “gigacasting” to produce car chassis, similar to Teslas, which could reduce production complexity and costs but may raise concerns about repairability due to the potential difficulties in fixing cast unibodies, potentially aligning with carmakers’ interest in selling new vehicles rather than maintaining old ones.
- Carmakers still not complying with Massachusetts law: Carmakers are not immediately complying with a Massachusetts law requiring them to share vehicle data with independent repair shops due to concerns about potential hacking, despite the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reversing its earlier objections and allowing safe data sharing with independent shops using short-range wireless technology.
- The U.S. Military can’t repair its F-35 jets: VICE reports on the U.S. Military’s struggles to maintain its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, citing a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that found F-35s are only available for missions about half the time, with the multi-billion dollar jets sitting in storage because they’re waiting on repair parts and service that is handled exclusively by manufacturers.
- Independent Macbook calibration tool launches: A new tool called nerd.tool.1 has been developed to help independent repair shops address a common issue with MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models related to the sleep sensor, bypassing the need for Apple’s intervention. The tool, created by Notebook Nerds of Germany, recalibrates the replacement sensor and allows repair shops to fix the problem without relying on Apple’s tools and part supplies.
- Whirlpool cites repair as key to commitment to sustainable design: A profile of Whirlpool UK notes that the home appliance maker is making sustainability the focus of its product design, including repairability. Whirlpool UK’s CEO, James Goldsmith told the website that Whirlpool is complying with Right to Repair legislation and has troubleshot 56,000 repairs via their call center, without having to send out technicians.
- E-waste tradeoffs with solar production: The rapid growth of off-grid solar products in the global south has improved access to electricity but also led to a significant issue of solar e-waste when these products, often with short lifespans, fail and are discarded.