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Why The Right To Repair Agricultural Equipment is Crucial To Food Security

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If your tractor breaks, it seems like a no-brainer that you should be allowed to fix it—right?

Not always. In fact, agriculture machinery manufacturers are making it difficult for farmers or independent repair shops to address issues with equipment. From proprietary tools and parts to specific software, corporations create these barriers in order to retain the exclusive ability to service equipment—and to make more money.

The right to repair movement is fighting to give consumers control over the products they own.

Despite having vast know-how, farmers may be physically barred from making repairs and improvements to their equipment. If a tractor breaks, a farmer might have to wait weeks or months to pay someone else to fix it—and all the while, they’re losing crops and losing money.

“We’re trying to maintain our consumer rights, which means we still have to be able to repair and modify our tractors just like dad, grandpa, and great-grandpa did years ago,” Kevin Kenney, a Nebraska right-to-repair advocate, told Food Tank.

And thanks to advocate groups including The Repair Association, the topic is gaining momentum. A recent op-ed in the Washington Post says the right to repair could be “the next big political movement.” Currently, right to repair legislation is being proposed or enacted in more than half of all U.S. state governments—in ways that have the potential to be widely bipartisan.

Most of the progress toward right-to-repair has involved consumer devices, but luckily, some states are expanding right-to-repair to farm equipment, too. Proposals in 28 states will require electronics companies to make tools, parts, and vital information available for either individuals or independent repair shops. In April, Colorado became the first state to pass legislation ensuring consumers can fix their own tractors, and a similar bill is moving through Vermont’s state government, too.

Opponents of right-to-repair legislation say it would jeopardize consumer safety if repairs weren’t limited to corporate-authorized service providers—and they argue that the bills would also violate intellectual property protections and expose trade secrets if companies shared information.

But this simply is not true. A 2021 report from the Federal Trade Commission analyzed both corporations’ and advocates’ claims and found “scant evidence to support manufacturers’ justifications for repair restrictions.”

“We are a whole generation away from when everything was capable of being modified, improved upon—‘on-farm ingenuity,’ we used to call it,” Kevin Kenney told Food Tank from Nebraska. “We’re trying to bring that back through the same way we lost it, and that’s through open-source software. That’s the only way that’s going to work.”

When companies block farmers from making immediate fixes to their own equipment that might be necessary to harvest crops, they’re not only putting farmers’ livelihoods at risk—they’re putting food security at risk.

And they may be jeopardizing the environment, too. From Kenney’s perspective, right-to-repair is a way for farmers to embrace urgent regenerative practices without having to wait for major industries to catch up.

“We certainly think we should have the ability to make our equipment better and more economical and more ecologically sound on the farm,” he told Food Tank. “And take advantage of more renewable energy sources on the farm.”

At its core, the right to repair is about who really holds the power in our agricultural system. Farmers are some of the smartest people I know, and the right to repair is critical to building a food system that honors the time-honored skills of producers.

Let’s talk about the right to repair in your community. If your state, province, city, or local government is considering legislation on the subject, you can make a difference by speaking up. Email me at [email protected], and let’s talk about how Food Tank can help amplify your voice.

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Photo courtesy of Dietmar Reichle, Unsplash

The post Why The Right To Repair Agricultural Equipment is Crucial To Food Security appeared first on Food Tank.