Local farmers weigh in on Agricultural Right to Repair Act

  • Matt Demarco operates a backhoe at Diemand Farm in Wendell on Monday. Co-owner Anne Diemand Bucci said the Mormon Hollow Road farm operates primarily with older equipment, allowing it to be spared from needing to bring its equipment to dealerships for repairs that involve certain software tools. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Matt Demarco pictured with a backhoe at Diemand Farm in Wendell on Monday. Co-owner Anne Diemand Bucci said the Mormon Hollow Road farm operates primarily with older equipment, allowing it to be spared from needing to bring its equipment to dealerships for repairs that involve certain software tools. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Atlas Farm owner Gideon Porth, pictured with Kelly Hickey, who now owns the farm store in South Deerfield. Porth said the consolidation of dealerships selling agricultural equipment has impacted his farm. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 3/1/2022 2:43:51 PM
Modified: 3/1/2022 2:43:55 PM

A bill recently introduced in the U.S. Senate aims to end some current restrictions on the farming repair market, improving farmers’ ability to repair their equipment independently.

The Agricultural Right to Repair Act was introduced in February by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, and has since been strongly backed by the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG). According to the text of the bill, equipment manufacturers would be required to make available certain documentation, parts, software and tools with respect to electronics-related agricultural equipment.

“Much like everything else in our modern lives, tractors, combines and all sorts of agricultural equipment run on software,” Janet Domenitz, director MassPIRG, said in a recent webinar, where she introduced the research group’s latest report, Deere in the Headlights II. “The implementation of new technology should be helping farmers increase their yields, make their operations more efficient. … But manufacturers withhold certain software tools necessary to fix agricultural equipment.”

This often leads to farmers relying on dealers for such repairs, she said.

“That means they have to deal with repair delays that can threaten the viability of their crop and … affect their bottom line and their livelihood, while paying whatever the dealer wants to charge,” Domenitz said.

The Deere in the Headlights II report analyzes dealership data from the country’s top agricultural equipment manufacturers, including John Deere, Case IH, AGCO and Kubota.

“What we found is dealership consolidation is making this problem worse,” she said. “Put simply, dealership consolidation is further reducing farmers’ repair choices, making the problems they already face from repair restrictions that much worse.”

Sean Kane, founder of Safety Research & Strategies — and a part-time farmer in eastern Massachusetts — said in his experience, many farmers are looking for older machines as a result of the challenges associated with repairing newer machines.

“The technology brings a lot of promises and a lot of advances that can be helpful, but at the same time, if you can’t keep things moving, and you have to rely on a dealership and a process that you have no control of — and no ability to repair on your own — that’s going to end up a disaster,” Kane said.

In Wendell, Anne Diemand Bucci, co-owner of Diemand Farm, said at this point, the farm on Mormon Hollow Road is spared by the fact it operates primarily with older equipment.

“Newer tractors have computers,” she said. “That’s making it so farmers can’t do their own repairs. … At some point, it will affect us.”

And that’s why the Agricultural Right to Repair Act is so important, Domenitz said.

“Right to Repair reforms would provide farmers, independent mechanics and even competing manufacturer technicians with access to the physical and software tools to fix their stuff and get back to work,” Domenitz said.

As for the major consolidation of dealerships, Domenitz said it’s not something she likes to see happen.

“I think it’s a drag when conglomerates take over, and they put a lot of small business out,” she said. “We’re all in support of the little person … to be able to make a living helping out their neighbors… in the smaller communities.”

Gideon Porth, owner of Atlas Farm, said the consolidation of dealerships has already had an impact on his farm in South Deerfield.

“When I first started farming in the valley, we had a number of local repair shops, and they’ve either shut down or consolidated,” Porth explained. “The big companies that are operating now are hard to deal with.”

Porth said while he wasn’t aware of the Agricultural Right to Repair bill, “it would be a welcome thing.”

“We used to rely on a couple of local dealerships that have closed,” he recounted. “It’s definitely had an impact — we can’t wait six months on parts.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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