Farmers have always been a fix-it-yourself kind of people. But when it comes to repairing their tractors and other agricultural equipment, they’ve been locked out of many kinds of repairs by manufacturers like John Deere. Equipment getting stuck in “limp mode” in the field at harvest time is not only expensive but demeaning and frustrating.
But now, farmers in Colorado have reason to celebrate. Denver legislators have just passed the first-ever agricultural Right to Repair bill. Today’s landslide 44-16 vote on the reconciled bill in the House follows a successful vote in the Senate last month. The bill now moves to the governor’s desk.
We’ve been raising the alarm and advocating for farmers for a decade. In the meantime, Deere and other major agricultural equipment manufacturers have worked ever harder to keep their repair monopolies, consolidating independent repair shops into larger and larger dealerships. This has left farmers with few options when it comes to fixing their equipment.
Colorado is already a leader in the Right to Repair movement. Last year, they passed the first US Right to Repair bill since 2012, protecting Coloradans’ right to fix their own powered wheelchairs. Colorado’s fight for the Right to Repair is being waged by a broad coalition of groups, including Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, and CoPIRG.
In January—the beginning of the legislative season—Deere and the American Farm Bureau Federation signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), promising to give farmers access to some previously restricted repair materials. And on the very day of a critical hearing, Case IH and New Holland signed their own memorandum of understanding at the last minute, a desperate attempt to smother the bill. However, legislators determined that both MOUs were vague, incomplete, and unenforceable. Suspiciously, they also required that members of the American Farm Bureau Federation cease advocating for Right to Repair laws.
But other farm groups in Colorado and beyond have continued to advocate on behalf of all farmers. Montana Farmers Union president Walter Schweitzer told PIRG,
Farmers have found that any repair that interfaces with the emissions control system on the tractor is likely to require a dealer mechanic to input a code to complete. And in many states, dealer mechanics are increasingly overburdened, as Deere has killed off smaller repair businesses. A PIRG investigation of agricultural repair market consolidation found that last year in Colorado, there were 1,437 farms per Deere dealership. No wonder farmers reported waiting as much as 8 weeks for repair service—an unacceptable delay when your crops are rotting in the field.
But even before this bill passed, the antitrust screws have been tightening: The US Department of Justice weighed in on a large class action lawsuit criticizing Deere’s monopolistic practices. Last year, Farm Action and other farm advocacy groups filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission. Repair.org and PIRG advocates believe there’s irony in Deere’s argument that their repair restrictions are meant to follow the Clean Air Act—because Deere may be violating that very law by refusing to allow third-party repair.
Meanwhile, hackers have been looking for ways around these restrictions. Last year at the hacker conference DefCon, security researcher Sick Codes demonstrated that he was able to get Doom running on a Deere console.
Still, none of this movement against Deere has had the force of law. When the bill goes into effect on January 1, 2025, Colorado farmers will get the first chance to experience a post-monopoly world.
Today’s bill passage should open the door for more independent repair options for farmers: Farmers, their hired mechanics, and local repair shops can get the parts, diagnostics, and documentation they need to make repairs.
One critical step remains: a signature by Governor Polis, who has signaled that he supports the legislation.
“For farmers, simply getting access to all the tools needed to fix their tractors has been a tough row to hoe. That makes this historic victory sweeter than summer corn,” said PIRG Right to Repair Campaign Director Kevin O’Reilly. “With this bill, Colorado legislators are giving their farmers the repair relief they deserve. But farmers across the country should know: This is just the start.”
“Everyone who eats will benefit from this law. Farmers will have more timely options for repair, which will make it easier to use high-tech products which in turn enable more productive farms,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of Repair.org. “It will also help align the industry of agriculture with other products using technology-enabled products such as motor vehicles, trucks, wheelchairs, and cell phones. We should all be able to fix everything, everywhere, all the time.”
“This is a huge win for farmers in Colorado, who will now have more control over their own equipment and the ability to fix it themselves,” said Kyle Wiens, iFixit CEO. “iFixit has been fighting for our right to fix every thing we own for two decades. We’re thrilled to see this right extended to farmers in Colorado, and we expect that other states will follow suit.”