By Kevin Walker
LANSING, Mich. – Michigan has joined an increasing number of states that are moving forward with “right to repair” legislation that would codify a farmer’s right to repair his or her own equipment.
The new chair of the House agriculture committee, Reggie Miller, is a Democrat who represents a district west of Detroit that is partly rural and has its share of farmers. According to a statement from Miller’s office, House Bill 4673 would provide farmers the right to repair their own equipment by banning manufacturers from restricting farm equipment maintenance to authorized service providers.
“Currently, users of these machines may only have their equipment repaired and routine services performed by an authorized dealer or technician. This legislation would save farmers time and money when their equipment needs service,” the statement said. Especially for those in rural areas, the freedom to fix and repair tractors and other farm equipment is invaluable, as a delay of just one day can make or break a season.”
The legislation pertains only to the agricultural sector. The legislature has several other right to repair bills under consideration pertaining to other kinds of equipment.
Miller sounded upbeat about the chances of the legislation passing. “I got a lot of good feedback from farmers and others about this,” she said. “We’ve got to tweak the legislation a bit, but I’m very optimistic about this getting passed.”
According to Miller, in February, the Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) helped to set up a dinner meeting between herself and some farmer constituents in the Monroe-Dundee area south of Detroit to discuss farmers’ concerns about their right to repair their own equipment, or their lack of a right to do so. She said the meeting was well attended and that the farmers aired their concerns. She said farmers are enthusiastic about the possibility they could get the right to fix their machines.
Miller said the MFB is neutral about the legislation. No one from the MFB was available for an interview for this story, but the MFB’s Andrew Vermeesch issued a statement saying the organization would like to see agreements between the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and major equipment manufacturers “fully implemented” and given time to work “before any legislative or regulatory action is taken at this time.”
Miller said, “Manufacturers are against the legislation, especially John Deere. But John Deere is talking with us and working with us and we’re really pleased with that.”
Miller added that 16 other states are considering right to repair legislation pertaining specifically to farm equipment. Colorado recently passed right to repair legislation. John Deere’s official statement about right to repair states, in part, “for over 180 years, John Deere has empowered customers to maintain and repair their own machines. We fully support a customer safely maintaining, diagnosing, and repairing their own equipment. That’s why we provide tools, parts, training videos, manuals, and remote access for customers to work on their machines.”
The AFBF has reached a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with most major farm equipment manufacturers, including John Deere and several other companies such as CNH Industrial brands, Case IH and New Holland.
However, Right to Repair Association Executive Director Gay Gordon-Byrne said that the MOU in question is inadequate. “The AFBF didn’t want legislation,” Gordon-Byrne said. “They’ve been very tepid about it. The state farm bureaus get wined and dined by John Deere and other companies and all of a sudden they’re against it. The problem with the MOU is there’s no enforcement. Farmers are not happy with the MOUs because it doesn’t compel the companies to do anything they don’t want to do. It’s as lame as it can get. It’s the fox guarding the henhouse. The farm bureaus are sort of supporting it and sort of not supporting it.”
In response to Vermeesch’s statement, Gordon-Byrne said, “they’ve had 10 years to figure things out, this is just a stall. The farm bureau is just not leading on this. It’s way past time for something to be done. These MOUs are not constraining legislation any longer; I’d say there’s at least a 50 percent chance of this legislation going through.”
For her part, Miller said she’d very much like to hear from farmers who support the legislation and asked that they call her office at 517-373-0159.