Congress Introduces New Agricultural 'Right to Repair' Bill With Massive Farmer Support

from the let-me-fix-my-shit dept

Back in 2015, frustration at John Deere’s draconian tractor DRM helped birth a grassroots tech movement dubbed “right to repair.” The company’s crackdown on “unauthorized repairs” turned countless ordinary citizens into technology policy activists, after DRM (and the company’s EULA) prohibited the lion’s share of repair or modification of tractors customers thought they owned. These restrictions only worked to drive up costs for owners, who faced either paying significantly more money for “authorized” repair (which for many owners involved hauling tractors hundreds of miles and shelling out thousands of additional dollars), or toying around with pirated firmware just to ensure the products they owned actually worked.

Seven years later and this movement is only growing. This week Senator Jon Tester said he was introducing new legislation (full text here, pdf) that would require tractor and other agricultural hardware manufacturers to make manuals, spare parts, and and software access codes publicly available:

“We?ve got to figure out ways to empower farmers to make sure they can stay on the land. This is one of the ways to do it,? Tester said. ?I think that the more we can empower farmers to be able to control their own destiny, which is what this bill does, the safer food chains are going to be.”

The legislation comes as John Deere recently was hit with two new lawsuits accusing the company of violating antitrust laws by unlawfully monopolizing the tractor repair market. In 2018 John Deere had promised to make sweeping changes to address farmers’ complaints, though by 2021 those changes had yet to materialize. Tester’s legislation also comes as a new US PIRG survey shows that a bipartisan mass of famers overwhelmingly support reform on this front.

Tester’s proposal is just one of several new efforts to rein in attempts to monopolize repair, be it John Deere or Apple. More that a dozen state-level laws have been proposed, and the Biden administration’s recent executive order on competition also urges the FTC to craft tougher rules on repair monopolization efforts. In an era rife with partisan bickering, it’s refreshing to see an issue with such broad, bipartisan public support, resulting in an issue that only had niche support a half decade ago rocketing into the mainstream.

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Companies: john deere

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Comments on “Congress Introduces New Agricultural 'Right to Repair' Bill With Massive Farmer Support”

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James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The farm lobby can be pretty massive in many states. Many representatives will rely of farmers and fatm workers for a large portion of their base. It’s also a lobby that is by its nature, not active. Politicians are the people who dropped farming once we could get beyond a subsistence level. Farmers are the ones who choose to keep farming. By their nature, farming is what they want to do, leave the politics to the others. As we see in british, where the farm and fishing lobbies could murder the tory government right now, but can’t be asked to actually lobby the government over brexit.

John Deere kicked a hornets nest. They got the farm lobby to actually take a stand. And with the internet to help messaging, they now have a bipartisan collection of senators and a president who considers this an issue to tackle. not sure why you are shutting down the farm lobby here. they are making ground against john deere in popular and governmental support.

Anonymous Coward says:


Look at the senator’s statement:

"I think when you get into other areas like cellphones and TVs and all that kind of stuff, it brings in all sorts of other issues that I am personally not as familiar with as agriculture. That’s not to say that those other issues aren’t really, really important. What it is to say is that I know this issue reasonably well, and I thought this is an issue that we need to deal with, and the sooner the better."

In other words, John Deere didn’t pay enough protection money this month and the IT industry companies that did want to eliminate a key support of their opposition. The politicians are all too ready to give them that as it allows them to go back to saying that Right to Repair only affects IP thieves and neckbeards that should shut up and go buy another device.

The movement needs to call out this BS and fast.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Diversion

Bold take, going from

“I’m a 65-year-old man who doesn’t understand tech, my phone is basically magic to me like 90% of the populace and i can’t assess how much smoke they are blowing up my ass, but i’m from montana and my position relies on me listening to the farmers in my state, and in 14 years in the senate as a democrat in a deeply red state after years holding state office, I’ve picked up enough of a passing knowledge of farm equipment that i can absolutely understand that the tractor stuff is stupid.”


“I absolutely understand the nuances of this discussion, i just got paid off by apple and not john deere”

Like John Deere would stoop to having office workers drive forklifts but not bribe congress.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Diversion

There’s something you should know about Montana Politics, though: For a while, the singular Congressional district (which has now been split in two) was solidly Republican, and the people there have been open to filling the Governor’s office and any of the US Senate seats with populist (as in anti-élite, not "dumbfsck fascist" which far too many do) Democrats. The state has consistently voted Republican in presidential elections and (as I said) sent a Republican to the house of Representatives for decades.

(Nota Bene: I am not from Montana nor do I have family there but I have followed Montana politics for a while two decades ago so I know what I am talking about)

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: This is rather amazing...

We don’t have a law forcing MickeyD to keep their shake machines working (and by that I mean, the company could let their franchise stores seek local independent help) because the populace doesn’t need to have a milk shake every time they turn around.

We are on the cusp of letting farmers have some freedom to keep their farm machinery working, without jacking up the costs of repair that eventually translates its way to the retail customer’s wallet, because literally everybody has to eat. For the cynical among you, the populace needs to eat so they can both donate and vote.

That’s the difference between the two examples.

This bill is the legislative "foot in the door" to break this crap in other fields, though I foresee that a lot more effort will have to be undertaken – no one has to have a cell phone, or an 80" TV, nor anything else techy in nature. About 99% of that mystical "everyone" wants their gadgets, but they don’t need them to get through life. And don’t worry, when you come back with "wah wah wah", I’ll have a comeback for you, trust me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: This is rather amazing...

Well, from what I understand this bill applies to farmer’s smartphones too, not just their tractors.

So if I start up a hobby garden, and sell at the local Farmer’s Market, that means that I should ALSO be able to repair my own phone.

And if I can repair my own phone and farmers can repair their own phones… why can’t everyone else?

Even if they think "this one’s done and dusted for a few decades," there’s a significant amount of leverage here now.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There are certainly surface similarities, if you phrase it properly. The issue, is once you start dealing with specifics you begin to understand why this happens.

To phrase everything so a comparison can be made, we are comparing:

a law providing farmers the right to repair farm equipment that is a basic neccesity for doing their job.

A law giving fast food franchisees the right to repair equipment that represent a minority of revenue and a side to the food which is unaffected.

A politician isn’t losing their job over a dysfunctional ice cream machine. They absolutely could if they fail to support the farming community that votes for them. I thought you of all people would understand this cynical motivation. Considering basic, cynical motivations might serve you better than blind nihilism.

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