Case made against right-to-repair

Many farmers are lobbying for the right to modify the electronics in their modern farm equipment, but dealers say there are many reasons why this isn’t a good idea.  | REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng photo

The Western Equipment Dealers Association rejects proposed right-to-repair legislation as ‘unnecessary and divisive’

WINNIPEG — Farm groups and a number of non-farm groups are pushing governments to pass right-to-repair legislation.

Industry is pushing back, saying that companies are addressing farmers’ concerns about repairing equipment.

Chief among farmer concerns is expensive new equipment that comes to a halt in the field when a computer malfunctions.

Farmers attending Crop Connect in Winnipeg on Feb. 12 heard a different story from Eric Wareham of the Western Equipment Dealers Association (WEDA).

Ninety-eight percent of all repairs to late-model implements are mechanical, not electronic, said Wareham.

Responding to questions about right-to-repair legislation, Wareham said the things farmers are demanding are becoming reality without legislation. The industry is addressing farmer concerns, he said.

“Farm equipment manufacturers say farmers do have the right to repair their equipment, but they do not have the right to modify that equipment. There’s a big difference,” said Wareham.

“Without legislation, industry has voluntarily taken it upon ourselves to make things better for farmers, to increase up time. There is serious dedication right now from manufacturers and dealers to keep farmers going, decrease downtime and maximize farm profits.

“We oppose right-to-repair legislation because we see it as unnecessary and divisive.”

He said 95 percent of maintenance problems occurring in modern implements are related to the lack of broadband connectivity in rural areas. Pushing for better rural broadband is a top priority for WEDA and implement companies.

“If we had remote diagnostic capabilities, we would dramatically increase uptime by not having to send technicians out to the field to diagnose every problem. We could do most of the diagnosis from the dealer.

“Some companies in broadband areas are now doing pre-diagnosis on their customers’ machines. The telemetry automatically tracks the functions of your implement and provides a warning if there are signs that a problem is developing.”

Wareham emphasized that safety is a major factor. He said chipping a piece of machinery to circumvent emission controls can affect the overall machine. He said the different software systems in a modern tractor, combine or sprayer, for example, include codes that control the braking. Tampering with emissions can impact the braking systems.

“You can’t go in there and change a one to a zero or a zero to a one. It can have a disastrous impact on the braking capabilities of that tractor or combine. It can have serious consequences for the owner, the technician, the dealer and even the next owner of that machine, especially if a tractor has been modified and it ends up at auction. Then there’s no accountability and there could be a braking incident in the future.”

Wareham said environment and the law go hand-in-hand in discouraging farmers from modifying electronics. Farmers may bypass emission controls to boost power, but it is against the law, he said.

Data security is another reason farmers should not alter their electronic control systems. He says new laws designed to protect consumer data applies to farmers and their equipment as well. He says farm equipment manufacturers have devised technology to encrypt proprietary information.

“The right-to-repair proponents say the manufacturers should open up all the embedded codes. People should have the right to access all that embedded information. But those are the same technology protection measures that protect all your data.

“The farmers I know don’t share any information with anyone. They don’t share their yield data or fertility data or seeding rates. They’re the most tight-lipped guys on the face of the Earth.”

Copyright protection is a major reason equipment companies don’t want embedded information made public, said Wareham.

He said the research and development investment required to push technology forward has been possible only because that cost can be passed on to the purchaser. If that protection is lost as right-to-repair advocates want, the incentive to invest in technological right-to-repair will be lost.

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