The California Farm Bureau, a lobbying group representing farmers, has come under fire after reaching an agreement with the Far West Equipment Dealers Association that puts their supporters in a compromised position.
The agreement states that equipment manufacturers have to provide all information related to diagnosing and repairing their vehicles and equipment. This is something that was basically already in place, but the agreement made it official.
However, it also states that farmers are not allowed to re-program electronic control units or engine control modules, change settings affecting emissions or safety systems, and, most troubling to farmers, owners are not allowed to download or access source code of any proprietary embedded software.
So basically, owners are allowed to understand how to fix what’s wrong, but they’re not allowed to touch the systems that would actually enable the repair. This raises a number of concerns.
First, there’s the time-honored tradition of farmers working on and repairing their own equipment. This is essential not just in avoiding repair costs, but in saving time. Equipment downtime in the fields is just as profit-sapping as on the plant floor.
The fact that authorized dealers would essentially be the only repair source also puts buyer and seller in an awkwardly combative situation. Just as in the automotive sector, repair and maintenance has become a bigger part of the business due to longer lifespans.
These longer-lasting tractors and ag equipment get their added durability from a growing number of electronically-controlled components and systems. Manufacturers would argue that their complexity demands an understanding beyond that of a manual. So, they’re helping the farmer out by ensuring the repair is done properly in preserving its longevity.
Farmers, big surprise, really don’t like being told what to do – especially after investing hundreds of thousands of dollars on these machines.
The agreement is garnering nation attention on a couple of fronts. First, there’s the concern that companies of all types could see software modifications as infringing upon patents and copyrights.
More specific to the food sector, California farmers grow more produce and nuts than any other state in the union. So just as the California Air Resources Board essentially dictates EPA guidelines, the same could occur here with right to repair regulations.