Comment: Right to repair machinery, not modify

Modern farm equipment can be dangerous or easily damaged when improperly modified

For the most part, agriculture in Canada has survived the COVID-19 pandemic better than expected.

Weather and commodity prices have played a big part of that. Perhaps the only negative we see is that the coronavirus created major disruptions in the inventory and parts supply chain. Equipment manufacturers and dealers are addressing the issue to the best of their ability.

I point this out as 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 Canada 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 our farmer customers to be prosperous. We know that when farmers are successful, dealers and our 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 on the agricultural community.

One issue south of the border that has been gaining momentum is the so-called Right to Repair (R2R). In the past three years, we have seen attempts to pass R2R legislation in over 25 states. This issue has crept into Canada, as it was 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 affecting farm equipment 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. Clearly put, R2R proposes government-sanctioned intellectual property (IP) 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 on board 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.

The manufacturers have invested in this new technology because our customers were asking 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 can still make 95 per cent 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 better safety and emission features that are in accordance with Canadian law. These laws were designed to keep farmers and the public safe, while at the same time keeping the emissions standards’ laws consistent with the U.S.

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 put, R2R laws would raise privacy and safety concerns, stifle innovation and remove the incentive manufacturers have to create the products that customers demand.

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 their own equipment. In our view, the R2R movement in the U.S. is more about “right to modify” than “right to repair.”

Our equipment dealer members across Canada have provided numerous examples of premature engine and transmission failures due to equipment being “chipped.” Our 2020 harvest has also seen an unusually high number of combine fires. It is against the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) for a manufacturer, importer, distributor, or dealer to remove or alter an emission device. Yet we regularly see and hear advertisements for 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.

But let’s not confuse modifying farm equipment with proposed legislation on repairing equipment.

Make no mistake, an equipment dealer completely understands the frustration a customer has when he gets an error code and doesn’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 to allow them to quickly identify more serious issues which require the assistance of a dealer.

Simply put, our industry commitment is to ensure that folks have the ‘right to repair’ while continuing to work against attempts to improperly modify equipment that compromise 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.

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 access, 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 across all arable acres in Canada.

Our farmers are on the front line of the coronavirus outbreak by helping to keep Canada and the world fed and healthy. It’s clear the current system is working. The advancements in agricultural technology are helping farmers quickly and more efficiently produce crops. But R2R laws would interfere with this by adding unnecessary government regulation.

Let’s hope Canadian lawmakers realize this type of legislation would be detrimental to our farmers and focus on ways they can truly help agriculture as we continue to feed Canada and the world.

John Schmeiser is the CEO of the Western Equipment Dealers Association (WEDA)

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