Manufacturers plan to offer farmers more information

Farm equipment dealers and manufacturers are swerving to avoid a large pothole in their technology sales road, offering farmers more information about what keeps their machinery ticking.

The growing right to repair movement has been a global phenomenon. From cellular phones to the latest automobiles, people have been hacking their way through the technology to repair or modify the technology they purchased.

Farmers have been fixing and modifying their own machinery since the first piece was sold.

But in recent decades the technology has become more complex and often has been protected from prying hands through privacy rules designed to prevent technology copying.

Farm machinery makers have used technology to make equipment better, but at the same time a set of wrenches or even a multimeter aren’t going to fix plenty of what can go wrong with the latest gear.

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The bigger right to repair movement has encompassed agriculture, with proposed legislation popping up across the United States.

Early manufacturers’ responses to farmer challenges to hand over diagnostic and machinery repair information about advanced electronics were often frustrating to producers, especially when farmers were told by some companies they didn’t actually own the technology that ran their equipment.

Last month, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and the Equipment Dealers Association resolved in a joint statement to provide “comprehensive service information tools to end users of farm equipment for tractors and combines in model year 2021.”

Dennis Slater, chief executive officer of AEM, said the industry needs a strong dealer network to service customers, but admitted farmers often have additional needs.

“But we’ve heard from end users that they have a need for basic service, maintenance and repairs of their equipment,” he said during a call with reporters.

Slater said the manufacturers, whom he represents, will begin providing farmers with more access to onboard diagnostic information, potentially electronic tools for field access and training so farmers can take up some those maintenance chores themselves.

“We will empower farmers and ranchers to provide basic service and maintenance and help end users determine when they need to involve dealers for more complex repairs,” he said.

There is a North American group of farmers that wants more than just the basics from the companies, and he acknowledged their points. However, he was reluctant to agree to granting full access to the software code that runs many of the components in the farm equipment, something producers have also asked for.

“Many of the people advocating for access to the software code are doing it to line their own pockets,” Slater said.

Kim Rominger, who heads the EDA, said the industry is finding the correct balance between accessing information and protecting end users from unnecessary risk.

“There’s a difference between maintenance and modification,” he said.

Rominger suggested that modifying software can create safety and emission issues in the equipment.

In turn, the modified machines could end up being resold to dealers or other farmers.

“Our hope is that our industry’s commitment obviates the need for new legislation,” he said, making reference to legislation in Nebraska and other farm states where they are being challenged.

Nick Tindal of AEM said the industry is setting up the necessary guidelines.

“It is up to the individual companies and dealers how that is to be implemented,” he said.

Companies are adding more information to their online offerings for farmers all the time, he added.

Natalie Higgins of the EDA said there might be electronic tools or web-based systems that can used to handle firmware or software updates.

“From an EDA perspective, our promise to industry strikes the right balance and avoids the disclosures of information that modify safety and emission features,” she said.

“We want to minimize downtime and maximize productivity and alleviate the need for right to repair (legislation).”

A joint statement of principles from the EDA and AEM about the release of information suggest that their members use:

  • manuals, including operator, parts and service
  • product guides
  • product service demonstrations, such as training, seminars or clinics
  • fleet management information
  • on-board diagnostics through diagnostics ports or wireless interfaces
  • electronic field diagnostic service tools and the training needed to use these

The group has launched a website with more information for farm machinery owners at R2Rsolutions.org.

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