Rotunda Roundup from Montana Farmers Union: Legislative Update for Feb. 20-24

Rotunda Roundup from Montana Farmers Union: Legislative Update for Feb. 20-24

The following is a weekly update of Montana Farmers Union involvement in the Montana Legislative Session. MFU is the state’s largest and oldest grassroots farm advocacy organization representing family farms, and has worked more than 100 years on behalf of Montana farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

By Rachel Prevost and Jasmine Krotkov

Montana Farmers Union Government Affairs Team

Montana Farmers Union this week continued to support two bills that would give farmers and ranchers the right to repair their own equipment.

House Bill 475, sponsored by Rep. Tom France, and SB 347, sponsored by Sen. Willis Curdy, were both heard simultaneously in their respective ag committees Tuesday.

Montana Farmers Union members have made right to repair for agricultural equipment a top priority for two sessions now and thank both France and Curdy for bringing these crucial bills forward.

Both the bills are about fair access to the software and tools necessary for farmers, ranchers, and independent repair providers. With the correct tools in hand and access to the necessary software, producers can repair their own agriculture equipment or have a choice in what repair shop they use, mitigating both time lags and expensive repairs.

Currently, farmers and ranchers are unable to fully repair equipment they own because of a deliberate lack of access to tools and software from equipment manufacturers. A monopoly on the repair market, which manufacturers currently have, significantly restricts the options farmers and ranchers have when it comes to repairing their equipment.

The services and parts agricultural equipment dealerships provide to Montana producers are invaluable. Nonetheless, Montana is a big state, and dealership consolidation and a limited number of authorized repair technicians during peak breakdown seasons have led to long wait times for expensive repairs – both of which add unnecessary stress and further strain on family farmers.

During Tuesday’s hearings, legislators heard why HB 475 and SB 347 are critical from MFU members, Montana Cattleman’s Association, Northern Plains Resource Council, and other right to repair advocates. Testimony included personal stories about the frustrations that farmers have experienced without the tools and software necessary to repair their own equipment.

While some equipment manufacturers have made limited trouble shooting tools and trainings available, the tools are not comprehensive, and producers must still pay a manufacturer approved technician to program new parts for equipment to return to full functionality. 

The need for this legislation is clear and was further confirmed by a recent filing by the DOJ in support of farmers in their lawsuit claiming John Deere is deliberately designing tractors to require software tools and other dealership-only tools, which means that farmers and independent mechanics cannot troubleshoot and repair tractors.

In the court documents, the DOJ points out that there is an important role for competition in the markets of parts, manuals, and diagnostic tools and that Deere is violating ag equipment owners’ aftermarket rights.

Several different farm equipment dealerships from around the state, along with the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, the Montana Chamber of Commerce, and the Montana Auto Dealers opposed HB 475. Curdy’s SB 347 also faced stiff opposition from some of the same groups. Opponents testified that the bills would allow farmers and ranchers to illegally modify their equipment and leave dealers at risk of liability.

However, neither HB 475 nor SB 347 allow for illegal modifications. If it’s an illegal modification now, it would remain illegal upon the bill’s passage. It is also incorrect to say manufacturer tools facilitate anything but safety and emissions compliance.

Farmers just want to repair their equipment. These bills support family farmers and ranchers and keeps our farmers and their equipment moving in the field.

The House Agriculture Committee will be taking executive action on the HB 475 Tuesday, Feb. 28, and the Senate Ag Committee is expected to take executive action on SB 347 soon.

If you like being able to fully fix what you own, urge members of the Senate and House ag committees to support HB 475 and SB 347.

MFU also supported HB 481, which removes the cap of 1/2 the rate of inflation for calculating property tax levies and replaces it with the rate of inflation. The cap of 1/2 the rate of inflation was put into place to encourage counties to diversify their revenue sources. Since that time, rural counties haven’t had the population growth that would make those other sources more viable. This bill would give the option to counties to use the rate of inflation to calculate property tax levies as a short-term response to crises. Our policy position states that taxes are levied to provide services which people cannot efficiently provide for themselves, and that property taxes are a stable source of revenue for counties. The bill has passed out of the committee as amended.

MFU also opposed several bills this week:

  • HB 642: Farmers’ and ranchers’ ability to thrive and stay on the land is directly associated with the prior appropriations doctrine of water law. We also support a farmland and rangeland protection policy to encourage the continuation of farming versus urban development. This bill works against both of those values. It doubles allotment from 10 to 20-acre feet of water available to each 20 acre lot, and provides no protection for senior water users like farmers and ranchers. It allows for dense housing developments in agricultural land. It removes the term “combined appropriation” from current water law, which has been the only statutory limitation on developers stacking multiple exemptions to withdraw significant amounts of water without a permit and does not require developers to consider adverse effect on the rest of us. This bill provides no ability for private parties such as farmers and ranchers to challenge the issuance of an exempt right, and the DNRC would not be allowed to revoke the right or put protective terms and conditions on how the exempt water right is used. In short, MFU sees this bill as providing enough exemptions to swallow the rule of the Water Use Act.
  • HB 576: MFU policy supports “feasible air, water, and land use standards to prevent degradation of our environment and quality of life for present and future generations.” HB 576 punches holes in the standards that currently work toward the goals of proper regulation and preventing degradation of our environment. This bill changes the definition of degradation to water quality to include the terms “serious, long term, permanent”. Farmers and ranchers know that disrupting the hydrologic cycle or degrading water quality often has serious, long term and permanent” affects even when they aren’t anticipated. This bill also restricts farmers and ranchers’ rights as neighbors to coal mines, to voice concerns about material damage that no one predicted. MFU opposed HB 576. The bill has passed out of the committee with a 10-5 vote.
  • SB 382: The word “agriculture” occurs 10 times in this 50 page bill, showing there was consideration given to protecting agricultural land from urban sprawl or development. MFU asked to see, in addition to protecting ag land, that land use planners and communities recognize that protecting agricultural land is an opportunity for them, not just a thing to be protected. To accomplish this, the bill will be amended so that agriculture is included as an opportunity, in introducing the concept of future land use.
  • HB 506: This bill would remove the requirement for state agencies to get workers compensation insurance from the State Fund, which is the “insurer of last resort” in Montana. It provides three options for them: to self insure, to get private insurance, or to stay in the State Fund. We have policy to oppose privatization of the State Fund. Removing the broad base of policy holders will have negative impacts on more risky occupations, like farming and ranching. If the State Fund lost the revenue from the broad base of policy holders, it would result in higher premiums for those remaining in the program. We urged the House Business and Labor committee to table this bill.
  • HB 537: This bill would allow oil and gas companies to take water from private landowners without permission and utilize it for their own use, providing a free pass for oil and gas corporations at the expense of the landowner. Montana Farmers Union policy supports current water law with prior appropriations doctrine.

Go to for more details on MFU’s legislative work throughout the Legislative Session on behalf of Montana’s farmers, ranchers and rural communities.


2023 Montana Farmers Union Annual Convention

October 27, 2023 - October 28, 2023
Heritage Inn, Great Falls MT