Montana farmers and ranchers across this state have been waiting far too long for their elected representatives to secure their right to repair their own agricultural equipment. When a combine breaks down in the field during harvest season, a farmer needs to get it up and running as quickly as possible to avoid wasting precious time and losing money. But as the ag equipment industry has consolidated – and as equipment has grown more technologically complex – farmers and independent repair shops are increasingly blocked from making repairs to machines.
Even when folks in the field are able to diagnose what’s wrong with their equipment, the big equipment manufacturers are using specialized software to block those repairs. Farmers and ranchers have to sit and wait, all for a fix they could have made themselves if manufacturers weren’t using anti-competitive practices.
Democrats in the Montana Legislature sponsored two bills this session that would have made it easier for farmers to repair their own equipment. Our bills would have required manufacturers sell diagnostic repair tools directly to farmers, ranchers and independent repair shops. We had strong support from Montana’s ag producers and repair shops, and this common-sense legislation should have become law. But after intense lobbying from the big manufacturers, Republicans turned their backs on farmers and ranchers and killed both bills.
We aren’t going to give up on our bills, and we’ll try once more when the Legislature meets again in 2023. Farmers and ranchers can’t wait that long, though, and they can’t go through another growing season without the ability to repair their tractors. Fortunately, a few weeks ago President Joe Biden directed the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to put rules in place that protect farmers’ and ranchers’ right to repair their own equipment. Every week counts, and those protections aren’t here yet, so we joined 39 of our Democratic colleagues from the Legislature to put pressure on the FTC. We are pushing them to work with farmers and ranchers to get strong right to repair rules on the books.
Ag production is the backbone of Montana’s economy, and at a time when drought is putting enormous pressure on farmers and ranchers, every elected official in this state should be giving producers the tools they need to do their work. Ag producers from Eureka to Ekalaka and Plentywood to Dillon deserve the right to service and repair their own equipment. Anyone who refuses to stand up for the right to repair is turning their backs on the folks who put them in office.
Mark Sweeney, D-Philipsburg, is a state senator. Tom France, D-Missoula, and Katie Sullivan, D-Missoula, are state representatives.
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