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Farmers Meet ‘Right to Repair’ Opposition in Rural Legislators

A Colorado bill would allow farmers and third-party technicians to repair agricultural equipment without waiting for dealers to intervene. But some rural legislators seem more concerned with dealer revenue than their constituents.

(TNS) — Republicans in the Colorado General Assembly are finding themselves in what some might consider an awkward position.

House Bill 23-1011, being called by its sponsors the "Consumer Right To Repair Agricultural Equipment" bill, would allow farmers and third-party technicians access to certain codes and software on agricultural equipment so they could repair the machines themselves rather than wait for dealers to send technicians into the field.

According to the official description provided in the bill's text, "the bill requires a manufacturer to provide parts, embedded software, firmware, tools, or documentation, such as diagnostic, maintenance, or repair manuals, diagrams, or similar information (resources), to independent repair providers and owners of the manufacturer's agricultural equipment to allow an independent repair provider or owner to conduct diagnostic, maintenance, or repair services on the owner's agricultural equipment."

Danny Wood, a Peetz farmer who testified in support of the bill before the House Agriculture Committee in February, said he had to pay $980 to have a technician come to the farm to re-set a code on a two-year-old, $300,000 tractor, when he could have set it himself if the IH-Case dealer had given him the code over the phone. That was after he'd spent $23,000 to have a guidance, auto-steer and implement control system installed on the tractor and another $8,500 to have the necessary features unlocked.

"I wrote (the code) down, so now I have it in case the problem happens again," Wood said.

Corporate and dealership representatives told the House Ag Committee that farmers want access to the software and codes so they can defeat exhaust emission controls and add a few more horsepower.

Wood told the Journal-Advocate that's simply not true. The reason, he said, is that breakdowns in the field have to be fixed quickly because most farming occurs during narrow windows of time. During wheat harvest, he said, his two-year-old Gleaner combine developed a crack in one of the diesel exhaust fluid tubes. DEF is a fluid that is mixed with diesel exhaust in a machine's catalytic converter, converting the hot gas into water and nitrogen. With the cracked tube, the combine wouldn't work, but would only idle. The combine sat useless for nearly a week before Wood went outside his warranty chain and found replacement tubes in Nebraska. He paid $1,150 for the tubes and it took five minutes to replace them.

Meanwhile, he was losing $85,000 a day in unharvested wheat while cutting with a backup combine. And every day the wheat stood in the field it was vulnerable to elements of nature that could have wiped out the whole crop in minutes.

"When a crop is ready to harvest, you have to get it in right now; otherwise, you could lose it," he said. "If it gets rained on, it lays down or we lose yield and grain quality. There's hail, wind, sawflies; all of that can ruin a crop."

Surprisingly, Republicans in the Legislature, who represent nearly all of rural Colorado, mostly oppose the bill while Democrats, who are largely representative of the urban corridor, support it. When the bill was passed on the floor of the House of Representatives last month, only two of the 19 Republicans in the chamber voted for it; Ron Weinberg of Loveland and Rod Bockenfeld of Watkins.

Rep. Richard Holtorf of Akron voted against the bill. Holtorf represents the 63rd House District, which contains Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington and Yuma counties and part of Weld County. Those are among the most agriculturally productive counties in Colorado. Holtorf was quoted in a Colorado Politics article in February as being more worried about protecting dealership revenue streams.

"Those service departments might become distressed and it would cause the dealership to become distressed and then it goes away," he said. "When something goes away, it hardly ever comes back."

Wood said dealer service departments are already overloaded, which is why it takes so long to get repairs done. He said letting farmers or third-party technicians work on the equipment that's in the field would allow dealerships to focus on warranty work, for which they still get paid. And not all farmers are willing to work on their own equipment because of the complexity of it.

"If some of this can be done by other people, that way (dealerships) could focus on their warranty work," he said. "There a lot of farmers who aren't going work on their own equipment anyway because they don't have the skill or they just don't want to."

The bill now heads to the Senate, where Sen. Byron Pelton of Sterling sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Wood will travel to Denver March 9 to testify before that committee as well.

Pelton told the Journal-Advocate he doesn't like the bill because it injects government into what should be a private business arrangement.

"I am meeting with some of the growers and I would like to hear from them what their concerns are," he said "I'm frustrated to be in the middle of this, because government shouldn't be in the middle of private business dealings."

Wood disagrees, saying it's not a matter of government overreach but a question of consumer protection.

"These guys' responsibility is to their constituents, not the corporations," he said. "They're supposed to represent us."

(c)2023 Journal-Advocate, Sterling, Colo. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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