Minnesota debates right-to-repair bills as tractor makers, farm groups seek amends

Christopher Vondracek, Star Tribune on

Published in Business News

From his tractor dealership in Mountain Lake, Minnesota, Kyle Smith, owner of Midway Farm Equipment, dispatches his mechanics miles away to fix farmers' tractors — repairs requiring much more than a wrench.

"It's not as easy as your tractor from 1978, when something doesn't work you go out and follow linkage to a cable and a cable to a valve," said Smith. "Nowadays, it's all electronic and it's on a wiring sensor somewhere."

He understands why do-it-yourself-minded operators are increasingly frustrated by their inability to fix equipment themselves. Instead of running solely on basic mechanics, tractors — like automobiles — increasingly rely on computer technology.

A movement within the industry known as "right-to-repair" — which aims to help that farmer or a local, independent mechanic fix the tractor on their own — has reached the Minnesota Legislature. A pair of bills are moving through the Capitol that could mandate farm equipment manufacturers share proprietary information — usually held by authorized dealers — so independent mechanics, or even farmers, could fix their own machinery.

But Smith doesn't like the term.

"I think the right-to-repair is almost worded wrongly from the fact that nothing is preventing the farmer from fixing his tractor," Smith said. "It's just anything software is proprietary from the manufacturer because they don't want unskilled people to go in there and mess it up."


Therein lies the conflict between a company's intellectual property and a farmer's independence.

Supporters view this as part of a larger push to break up monopolies in the farming industry. But some lawmakers say the highly technical nature of today's repairs are best left to the specialists.

"Today's agricultural equipment is not my grandfather's Minneapolis Moline," said Sen. Jordan Rasmusson, R-Fergus Falls. "There're new environmental standards, additional safety concerns and financial liability."

Last month, Rasmusson brought an amendment to remove farm equipment and off-road vehicles from the Senate version of a so-called "Digital Repair" bill, which covers consumer electronics. It remains in the House version of the bill.


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