Is a California right to repair deal for farm equipment wheat or chaff?
Run the search term “right to repair” and you’ll get two billion results in 0.40 seconds. Near the top of the list is a Wired article titled John Deere Just Swindled Farmers out of Their Right to Repair. The September 19 piece is a response to an agreement signed on September 7, 2018 between representatives of farm equipment dealers and California farmers.
The California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) news release – Agreement streamlines “right to repair” of high-tech farm equipment – notes of the agreement that it “… will make it easier for farmers to diagnose and repair equipment without accessing or downloading proprietary software or code.”
The Wired article, on the other hand, calls it a “huge setback” for the right to repair what people own.
The CFBF writes that “… equipment dealers commit to providing access to service manuals, product guides, on-board diagnostics and other information that would help a farmer or rancher to identify or repair problems with the machinery.”
But for any such materials not available now, the agreement only promises them for tractors and combines coming into service beginning January 1, 2021.
The Wired article authors – Kyle Wiens, cofounder and CEO of iFixit, which sells open-source repair manuals, parts, etcetera, and Elizabeth Chamberlain, iFixit writer and Arkansas State University professor of technical writing and rhetoric – insist that access to service manuals, on-board diagnostics, etcetera, are not enough. What farmers need to fix their equipment is access to parts and diagnostic software, they write.
Modifying software is a routine part of modern repair
They see the restrictions in the agreement, including no resetting immobilizer systems or reprogramming electronic control units or engine control modules, as effectively making it impossible to do most repairs. “Modifying software is a routine part of modern repair,” Wiens and Chamberlain note.
With repairs by authorised company representatives sometimes taking days, and with bills for service calls running to hundreds of dollars, frustrated but ever-resourceful farmers are turning to pirated diagnostic software to get the job done.
This controversial agreement is by no means the end of this story, as farmers are advocating right to repair legislation in other states. Stay tuned.