Agricultural equipment right-to-repair bill discussed

Owners of modern farm machinery would have the same access as authorized dealers to the software, tools, technical manuals and parts needed to make repairs under a bill discussed on general file April 7.

Sen. Tom Brandt
Sen. Tom Brandt

LB543, as introduced last session by Plymouth Sen. Tom Brandt, would require original equipment manufacturers to make available, on fair and reasonable terms, the documentation, parts and tools needed to diagnose, maintain or repair electronics-enabled agricultural equipment to independent mechanics or the equipment’s owner.

Violating the act — which would apply to equipment sold or in use in Nebraska on or after its effective date — would be an unlawful practice under the state Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

Brandt said the bill remained in committee until this year to allow time for manufacturers and right-to-repair advocates to reach a memorandum of understanding at the federal level to allow owners and independent repair shops to buy the diagnostic equipment and tools needed to make repairs, in the same way that car and truck owners can. Those negotiations have stalled, he said.

Modern farm equipment is computer-driven, Brandt said, which means that farmers must wait for dealers to have an available technician to diagnose and repair machinery — time that farmers don’t have. Repair manuals are available, he said, but they often are outdated unless one pays to automatically receive updates.

“Historically, in Nebraska … a good mechanic is worth more than a good doctor,” Brandt said. “As a farmer, I just want the damn thing to work.”

Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh supported the bill, saying the ability for farmers to make repairs or buy parts from a third party, in the way that car and truck owners can, would improve efficiency. Ag producers are working with small windows of opportunity when it comes to planting and harvesting, he said.

“Time is of the essence when it comes to all stages of agriculture production,” Cavanaugh said.

Sen. Julie Slama of Sterling opposed the bill, citing safety and liability concerns. Manufacturers have given farmers the tools needed to repair their equipment, she said, but unless an individual is highly trained, they cannot safely repair complicated machines.

“Trying to do so [puts] their own personal safety at risk as well as the safety of their community,” Slama said. “One tweak to a modern tractor could cascade through an entire software system and lead to unintended consequences.”

Venango Sen. Dan Hughes said comparing modern farm equipment to cars and pickups is comparing apples and oranges. Speaking in opposition to the bill, he said combines contain multiple computers with different functions and are extremely complex.

American farmers have become the most productive and effective in the world because of the massive investment that manufacturers have made in technology, he said, and they deserve a return on that investment. No one enjoys paying a local dealer for servicing their equipment, he said, but it is part of doing business.

“As a farmer that takes advantage of those opportunities that modern equipment gives us, I am very appreciative because it allows me to be much more effective — much more productive,” Hughes said.

The legislature adjourned for the day before taking any action on LB543. It is unlikely to be debated again this session.

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