Right to repair continues to smolder


WEDA continues its effort to keep R2R from catching fire (Opinion)

Editor’s Note: Portions of this article first appeared in Canada’s Western Producer farm paper in October of this year. The Western Equipment Dealers Association has been involved in right to repair issues for the last few years, which has included working with legislators in the U.S. and Canada to help them understand the difference between right to repair equipment and right to modify equipment – and the difference is huge. John Schmeiser, CEO, WEDA, explains R2R poses a threat few people, even producers, consider.  

For the most part, agriculture in North America has survived the COVID-19 pandemic better than expected. Weather and commodity prices have played a big part of that. Perhaps the only negatives we’ve seen is the coronavirus created major disruptions in the inventory and parts supply chain. Equipment manufacturers and dealers have addressed the issue to the best of their ability. I point this out because there may not be awareness of the larger agricultural supply chain that works closely with farmers to help them operate efficiently and help produce food for North America and the world.

The relationship between equipment dealers, manufacturers and farmers is close-knit. Equipment manufacturers and dealers have a vested interest and strong desire for their farmer customers to be prosperous. We know that when farmers are successful, dealers and their communities are successful.

That is why at this time it would be unwise for a provincial or state government to disrupt the agricultural supply chain by implementing any new or unnecessary regulations that could have an effect on the agricultural community.

R2R Smolders

We continue to see advocacy efforts to enact right to repair legislation. In the past three years, we have seen attempts to pass R2R legislation in over 25 states. This issue has also crept into Canada where it became a discussion item with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and in 2019 a private member’s bill was introduced in Ontario.

To date, no R2R bill related to agriculture has been passed in either country. Ultimately, that is a good thing for the agricultural community. Let me explain why.

R2R evokes a can-do spirit and common sense. Unfortunately, that’s not what R2R is really about. Simply put: R2R proposes government-sanctioned intellectual property theft and promotes illegal modification.

Over the past century, agricultural equipment has developed to become more high-tech, efficient and safer. A modern-day tractor contains more lines of code than the first space shuttle and can operate autonomously. The high-tech tools onboard today’s equipment allow farmers to more accurately seed, spray and harvest, while at the same time monitor the weather. All of this leads to producing a higher crop yield.

Points to Ponder 

Equipment manufacturers have invested in this new technology because the industry’s customers have asked for it and continue to ask for it. But despite the technological advancements, farmers can still perform the vast majority of repairs on their equipment.

According to a June 2020 article in Successful Farming, farmers who own modern equipment have a clear path to make 95% of the repairs on their own. So, in the few cases where a farmer requires assistance for a repair, equipment dealers provide a highly trained technician who has an incentive to minimize downtime and maximize the farmer’s productivity. 

At the same time, modern tractors and combines also include improved safety and emission features that are in accordance with both U.S. and Canadian laws. These laws were designed to keep farmers and the public safe, while at the same time keeping the emissions standards’ laws consistent.

R2R advocates have also pursued language in legislation that would make it difficult for dealers to protect their customers’ data, such as seeding/fertilizer/spraying rates and crop yield. Would farmers like their crop production data shared with those who buy their trade-ins? We think not.

So, clearly stated, R2R laws would raise privacy and safety concerns, stifle innovation and remove the incentive manufacturers have to create the products that meet customer demand.

It’s also important to note that in my 25 years of working in the industry, I have yet to meet a dealer who is against a farmer’s right to repair his or her equipment. In our view, the R2R movement is more about “right to modify” than “right to repair.”

What we see and hear

WEDA members have provided numerous examples of premature engine and transmission failures due to equipment being “chipped.” Also, the 2020 harvest has resulted in an unusually high number of combine fires. It is in violation of both the National Environmental Policy Act in the U.S. and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act for a manufacturer, importer, distributor, or dealer to remove or alter an emission device.

Yet despite the laws, we regularly see and hear advertisements for tuning chips (to increase horsepower) or DEF defeat kits. Equipment altered from the original OEM standards runs hotter and harder and is more prone to fail. It also voids warranty, puts insurance coverage at risk and substantially reduces the equipment’s trade-in value.

However, let’s not confuse modifying farm equipment with proposed legislation on repairing equipment. It appears that the R2R movement is intentionally trying to conflate these two issues.

Industry Solution

Make no mistake, an equipment dealer completely understands the frustrations of customers when they get an error code and don’t know the extent or severity of the issue. That is why the industry has come up with a solution to prevent the need for any R2R legislation.

Dealers and manufacturers will ensure that end users have the tools they need to perform maintenance and basic repairs on their equipment and allow them to quickly identify more serious issues that require the assistance of a dealer. Simply, our industry commitment is to ensure that folks have the right to repair while continuing to work against attempts to improperly modify equipment that compromises privacy, safety and emissions features. We are on track for these tools to be available by early 2021.

More information on this commitment is available at www.r2rsolutions.org.  

WEDA members are aware that the association has been at the forefront of representing dealer interests on this issue. In 2019, we launched a social media campaign to get the message out to farmers that modification and tuning or chipping are not worth the risk. But despite these efforts, we expect to see renewed activity on the R2R question when state and provincial legislatures resume in 2021. So, we have been proactive in reaching out to state Farm Bureaus and many other farm organizations in both countries to discuss this issue. We feel it is important for these groups to hear the issue from a dealer perspective.

An industry solution is always better than a legislated solution. Instead of our elected officials considering R2R legislation, they should focus on where they can really help the industry: increased rural broadband. Today’s farm equipment has the ability for remote diagnostics, but without reliable internet access in rural areas we cannot take advantage of its full capability. If governments truly want to help the industry in this area, make the forthcoming 5G technology available throughout all arable acres in North America.

Farmers and the agricultural equipment industry are playing a key role as we work through the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s clear the current system is working. But R2R laws would interfere with this by adding unnecessary government regulation.

Let’s hope lawmakers realize this type of legislation would be detrimental to our farmers and the equipment industry. As we adjust to the current challenges of the pandemic and for our industry to continue to feed North America and the world, we need our lawmakers to focus on ways that they can truly help agriculture.

Podcast By John Schmeiser

JOHN SCHMEISER is the CEO of the Western Equipment Dealers Association (WEDA). First established in Canada in 1927, WEDA represents over 2200 farm, construction, and outdoor power equipment dealers in both Canada and the U.S.


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