Reps: Manufacturers do provide repair aid
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Agricultural manufacturers already provide farmers with tools to diagnose equipment needing repair, and a right-to-repair bill mandating the availability of such tools should be dropped, one of the region’s largest farm equipment distributors told a House committee last week.
The farm equipment industry is also holding two events for farmers to acquaint themselves with the tools in Queen Anne and Frederick in July, said Mel Goldsmith, general manager of Atlantic Tractor, a Delmarva equipment distributor, to the Economic Matters Committee on March 11.
The events will include companies such as Caterpillar, CNH Industrial and John Deere. The tools allow farmers to examine their own equipment just as authorized repair technicians do, with some restrictions, he said. In John Deere’s case, they don’t allow farmers to download software.
“We do not want that customer to have access to that code, and, yes, we’re not trying to fear-monger at all,” he said. “If somebody plays around with that combine that does not know what they’re doing, it is not unrealistic at all — and it has happened — where people have been killed playing around with this equipment when they didn’t know what they were doing.”
Goldsmith was addressing a bill by Del. Kevin Hornberger, R-Cecil, which would require equipment manufacturers to make available diagnostic and repair documentation, updates or information to independent repair providers or equipment owners. Manufacturers would also be unable to write license agreements that waive compliance with that requirement.
The bill is part of a growing wave of demand from farmers and right-to-repair advocates for manufacturers to allow tractor owners to repair new equipment. Manufacturers generally require farmers to use authorized dealership technicians due to copyright and safety concerns. Critics of those companies also say they’re reluctant to share keys to a lucrative sector of their business.
Hornberger and Andrew Zirkle, a legislative intern, advocated for the bill, arguing that manufacturers and a shrinking number of approved dealerships place an undue burden on farmers by subjecting them to long waits for service and pricey repairs.
“We really need to dispel this priesthood that is being interjected into the ability to do maintenance on something that you own,” Hornberger said. “This is a piece of farm equipment that someone has spent a tremendous amount of money on that they can’t touch, and the intimidation here that these manufacturers use to maintain this monopoly on maintenance is to say, ‘If you lay a hand on something other than the steering wheel, we’re going to void your warranty.’”
Zirkle told the committee a short story about an uncle who owned a small dairy farm in Lancaster, Pa., and purchased a John Deere tractor in 2016. His uncle successfully repaired a fuse-related issue on the tractor, but couldn’t restart the machine. He was required to call in a John Deere technician, Zirkle said, for $2,500.
“If you go to replace a car battery in your car, you don’t need someone from the Honda dealership to say, ‘Alright, everything’s A-OK. You can start your car back up,’” he said. “What if that was the case, and what if it cost $2,000? People would be losing their minds.”
But Goldsmith said Atlantic Tractor charges about $115 per hour for repairs, which is less than the auto industry. His technicians also can help farmers diagnose their equipment using video chat on cellphones.
“In some cases, we don’t even charge the customer for that, so we’re not running out and charging customers every single time there’s a problem with some sort of service charge,” he said.
But many farmers already repair their own equipment, said Del. Johnny Mautz, R-Talbot.
Del. Jay Walker, D-Prince George’s, wondered whether the bill might help farmers be more productive by reducing their dependence on dealerships. Goldsmith reminded the committee about the upcoming equipment customer events.
“I would (invite) every one of the committee members here to attend that customer event that we’re going to be holding in July of this year so you can see what this software can really do for our customers,” he said.
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