The cost of a Farmers’ Right to repair

The cost of a Farmers’ Right to repair

Montana Right Now

Story with video.

We live in a digital age and when our mobile devices break, we’re often forced to pay money to get them fixed even though we own them. Montana farmers and ranchers are in the same boat, but their repair bill can be substantially higher. One setback on any piece of farm equipment could end a season -or repairs could put them in severe debt. Now, a piece of legislation is putting a back log on farm equipment repairs.

“Farmers are an independent bunch. We’re used to, if we have problems, fix it,” said Walter Schweitzer, President of the Montana Farmers Union.  He explains why sometimes that’s not possible. Schweitzer is a third generation farmer in Geyser.  He relies on equipment in order to work the fields and in turn get food on your table.

“My John Deere Tractor here is having some issues causing it to shut down. I’m thinking it might be a heat sensor unit like this one here that’s sending the wrong signal,” said Schweitzer.  Walt says a major issue could cost up to $30,000 to fix. That’s not including labor.

“I don’t even want to think about it. Some of these people have spent $700,000-$800,000 for that piece of equipment and really they find out they’re just leasing it, renting it, it’s not theirs because they don’t have the right to repair,” said Schweitzer.  Right to repair is a law in several states allowing the consumer, in this case the farmer or rancher, to fix their own equipment without having to go back to the manufacturer.

The law applies to a handful of states, including Montana, but there’s a catch, “I can’t work on it because I need to have the dealer come out with their laptop, their software, and start troubleshooting that way,” said Schweitzer.  He says technology doesn’t necessarily apply.

According to Schweitzer, “My old tractor, I have service manuals that if it breaks down I can finger through those service manuals and I can troubleshoot and I can fix it, but with this tractor, I need the software. If I don’t have the software there’s nothing I can do. And that’s wrong.”

We’ve made phone calls to several equipment dealers like John Deere and they say there is a solution.”As a producer if you own that tractor you can come in and buy all of the diagnostic tools to fix your tractor,” said Ken Wheeler with Frontline Ag Solutions.

Some dealers make the equipment available, the catch is you have to buy it all and it’s not cheap. The software alone costs close to $4,000.  There are also cables and other tools you’ll need in order to fix your tractors computer problem.  Wheeler puts things into perspective, “There are very very few farmers that have the time and they just say ‘fix my stuff.’ Because how many farmers do you know that are experts on every aspect of the farm life?  They have to rely on the experts for something.”

So the battle continues, farming equipment manufacturers look to compete in the industry with the latest technology and farmers like Walt look to keep more money on the farm and less in repairs.

2023 Montana Farmers Union Annual Convention

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