Bill would permit Maryland farmers to work on their own equipment
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A bill by a Cecil County lawmaker would require agricultural manufacturers to grant Maryland farmers the right to repair their farm equipment — and help them do it.
Under Republican Del. Kevin Hornberger’s bill, filed last month, manufacturers would have to make diagnostic and repair documentation available to farmers or independent repair providers, and they would be prohibited from creating contracts with farmers that waive, avoid or limit compliance with that requirement.
The bill arrives as a rising number of farmers nationwide challenge major farm manufacturers to loosen restrictions on equipment software and the right to repair that equipment. Tractor companies generally require farmers to use authorized dealership technicians due to copyright and safety concerns. Manufacturers are also reluctant to relinquish keys to a lucrative sector of their business.
“If you buy something, you should own it,” Hornberger said. “The whole concept that a farmer is going to maliciously repair a piece of equipment he’s spent a million dollars on is farcical.”
But as the farm equipment industry consolidates and the number of dealerships dwindles, farmers can find themselves waiting at harvest time for company repair technicians when they could be diagnosing the problem themselves, he said.
“They’re sitting there with their hands tied, and all the while, their crops are spoiling, and they can’t make good on their harvest,” he said.
The bill’s first hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, March 11, but it’s not cross-filed in the Senate, and the session ends April 6. There may not be enough time or support to get the bill passed this year, Hornberger said, and the Maryland Farm Bureau has lobbied to pull it.
It may not be necessary, said Colby Ferguson, the Farm Bureau’s government relations director. Since the bill was filed, farm manufacturers have agreed to release new diagnostic equipment to farmers in the region, he said.
“It got the dealers to start working with us,” Ferguson said.
Once planting season and the wheat harvest concludes, manufacturers, including John Deere and New Holland, will debut the tools at dealerships in the area, most likely in July, he said. Those tools have already been debuted in several Midwestern states, he said, and if those solutions aren’t sufficient, farmers could again pursue the bill next year.
“From everything we’re being shown and told, this is going to address our problems,” Ferguson said.
Lobbyists who met with Hornberger, including representatives from John Deere and the Midwest-SouthEastern Equipment Dealers Association, declined to comment or could not be reached.
Hornberger said he wouldn’t pull his bill, allowing the House Economic Matters Committee to hear testimony this week.
“We’ll let the committee take a look at it,” he said. “My biggest concern is, I want the issue resolved, and we’ve got a good faith promise from the manufacturers that they’re going to work on that in the coming months.”
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