The Right to Repair (R2R) movement is helping farmers protect their right to fix their own farm equipment without facing legal repercussions.
The R2R movement lobbies for repair-friendly legislation, standards, and regulations through organizations like the Repair Association. The Association advocates for guaranteeing property rights, obtaining equal access to information, non-discriminatory pricing of parts and tools, and unlocking software.
“We’re trying to maintain our consumer rights which means we’d still like to be able to repair and modify our tractors just like our dad, grandfather, and great grandfather did years ago,” says Kevin Kenney, an Alternative Fuel Systems Engineer at Grassroots Energy LLC, and a member of the R2R movement, tells Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg on Food Talk Live.
The R2R movement is confronting corporations like John Deere who control machinery that farmers use. These companies prevent farmers from repairing equipment such as tractors and instead force farmers to hire outside contractors. According to Kenney, this can cost farmers up to US$150 an hour.
Kenney explains that corporations are able to do this through tactics such as lengthy Extended Use License Agreements (EULAs). Companies argue that farmers who sign these EULAs do not own their tractors, but receive a license to operate the vehicle. This forces farmers to comply with the manufacturer’s instructions and prevents them from repairing either the equipment or the software on their own.
Kenney tells Food Tank, “with major equipment manufacturers…they make us sign these [EULA]’s; and it’s just like your cell phone where you have the right to use your cell phone but you don’t really own it.”
One of the main concerns of the R2R movement is aging farm equipment, often called legacy equipment. When manufacturers introduce new software, they often stop supporting the old version, making it nearly impossible for farmers to repair existing equipment.
“The problem that we are having is if [manufacturers] decide to quit supporting [equipment] with software, we can’t get it fixed,” Kenney tells Food Tank.
This practice forces farmers to buy new software and equipment, which can reach up to US$600,000 dollars.
The cost does not only force current farmers to invest in costly new equipment or repairs to continue their work. Kenney explains that it also acts as a barrier for young farmers who lack access to capital to acquire these technologies when starting their farms.
But while the R2R movement fights for the right to own and repair farm equipment, companies are pushing back. John Deere argues that the R2R movement puts farmers’ safety at risk and violates intellectual property rights.
In response to this criticism, many farmers are using the auto industry’s Memorandum of Understanding to show that the right to repair is possible. In 2014, car manufacturers voluntarily agreed to make the same information and tools they provide to franchised dealers available to independent repair shops.
Kenney asks, “If you can fix your car or truck, why not your tractor?”
Kenney and other members of the R2R movement are also advocating for open source software, which gives users freedom to share, study, and modify software. Kenney is currently working with the Free Software Foundation to create open source resources for farmers.
To date, 35 states have proposed R2R legislation, demonstrating that farmers want to learn how to fix their own equipment and build on-farm ingenuity, according to Kenney.
Kenney is urging both urban and rural communities to come together to support farmers in this movement and distribute power from large companies to the many. “We’re tired of this urban versus rural split,” Kenney tells Food Tank.
“The fact that you are taking business away from the very very few and offering up assistance to 50-60,000 farmers [in Nebraska]…How could that be a bad thing?”
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