March 7, 2017
Farmers tend to have certain characteristics in common with each other. Though there are plenty of exceptions, they tend to be politically conservative, self reliant, preferring to be left alone to make their own decisions. Being handy with tools, they also tend to repair their own farm equipment out of practical necessity.
In a recent Guardian post, there’s an effort underway in the state of Nebraska to enable farmers and service repair companies the right to repair electronic products that requires access to proprietary software.
And, therein lies the catch. Companies like John Deere that manufactures farm equipment and Apple that makes electronic devices share basically the same concerns. They want to restrict access to their operating system software and control access to their proprietary parts and service manuals.
This puts farmers in a particular bind.
One example is farmer Kyle Schwarting of Ceresco, Nebraska who tried everything to fix his $250,000 tractor. When in operation, periodically, the tractor would detonate a loud alarm signal indicating a faulty hydraulic connector, a part Schwarting did not use.
It became evident that the only solution involved being able to modify the operating system software. Unfortunately, he was prohibited from even accessing the software which required the use of a specialized diagnostic tool and service manual.
The tractor’s manufacturer, John Deere, argues that their tractors and other computer-assisted farm equipment are not actually owned by the purchaser but instead they’re purchased under a license agreement. Their commercial license prohibits access to their software and restrict the use of their diagnostic tools. The manufacturer cites safety concerns as one of their principle reasons for keeping a closed-loop on their equipment repair services. Critics argue these restrictions unfairly limit competition and thereby bolster profits.
Agricultural chemical companies operate in a similar fashion with their genetically engineered seeds. Farmers are not allowed to reuse or share their seeds because they do not (according to their license) actually own the seeds, instead they are merely granted an annual commercial license to use them.
The Nebraska legislature is poised to soon decide who gets to define the tools of the trade: large corporate manufacturers or equipment purchasers and independent repair companies fighting for fair and unfettered access to these manufacturer’s parts and supplies.
Read the full article: A right to repair: why Nebraska farmers are taking on John Deere and Apple