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Opinion: Don’t let farmers be the pawns for ‘right to repair’ activists

  

This past year has been a trying one for the farming community in the Midwest. 

Last spring brought record storms and flooding across the Midwest region that caused serious and lasting damage. AccuWeather estimates $12.5 billion in damages and losses from flooding. The USDA reported in August that more than 19.4 million acres of farmland nationwide were not planted due to record rainfall and historic, catastrophic flooding. 

On top of that, farmers and the agriculture community have had to deal with the uncertainty from U.S. trade policy. As the trade war between China and the U.S. has continued to intensify over the past two years, retaliatory tariffs have left U.S. producers in the agriculture sector paying higher prices. This unpredictable situation has left many farmers unable to plan ahead, knowing more tariffs could be just around the corner. 

State Rep. Warren Love

The good news is the outlook for farmers is already looking up. According to one recent report, “with a return to normal weather, farmers will expand vastly their corn and soybean plantings next year — enough to produce their largest corn crop ever and the fourth-largest soybean crop, according to USDA’s agricultural projections.”

That’s an exciting prospect, considering the U.S. agriculture industry is a significant part of our economy. According to USDA, “in 2017, 21.6 million full- and part-time jobs were related to the agricultural and food sectors—11.0 percent of total U.S. employment. Direct on-farm employment accounted for about 2.6 million of these jobs, or 1.3 percent of U.S. employment. Employment in agriculture- and food-related industries supported another 19 million jobs.”

 The importance of the U.S. agriculture sector is all the more reason it’s so troubling that farmers are being targeted by special interest groups that are trying to gain access to proprietary information on tractors and farming equipment. These activists are pushing state legislatures to pass “right to repair” or “fair repair” bills by trying to convince lawmakers that farmers need access to equipment manufacturers’ intellectual property and software in order to fix their tractors.

This seems highly unlikely for a few reasons. As a Midwest native, I know firsthand how closely businesses in the agriculture and farming industries are linked. Farmers know their local dealer and the manufacturers that supply them, and their success and failure are inextricably linked to one another. If farms close or consolidate, so does the local dealer, which impacts production for the manufacturer. 

It just doesn’t seem likely that dealers and manufacturers would be trying to make life harder for their local customers, especially when they’re investing in new cutting-edge technology to make tractors operate more efficiently to increase their productivity. As new, innovative technology for equipment advances, it gets better. And even though farmers can still make most repairs themselves, “right to repair” activists seem to be insinuating that farmers can’t fix modern tractors themselves (which they can) and using it as a way to obtain proprietary information and new software. 

So far, nearly all of these local “right to repair” bills have failed in the state legislatures, including in Missouri. But these activists aren’t relenting, and now presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are calling for a national “right to repair” bill. 

Supporting farmers is great, but that simply isn’t what these overly broad bills would do. They would instead be forcing manufacturers to disclose their proprietary software, which hurts their ability to innovate and invest in better equipment and isn’t necessary for farmers to fix the vast majority of their repairs. 

Farming, just like so many industries, is adapting to new challenges all the time. Whether it’s the weather, or trade policy, or a hundred other hurdles the industry may face. As farming equipment makes technological advances to help our nation farm better, interest groups hungry to access intellectual property should stop trying to use farmers as a pawn for their own gain, which risks harming our nation’s farming industry in the process.