Montana lawmakers and farm industry lobbyists descended on Whitefish, Montana last week to discuss, among other things, the right-to-repair. Billed as an open debate between pro and anti right-to-repair advocates, the live panel discussion was more a one sided discussion of the evils of letting people fix their own stuff.
The right-to-repair discussion was a small segment of the 112th Montana Equipment Dealers Association annual conference, a gathering of farming equipment manufacturers, dealers, and other agriculture industry types to discuss topics of the day and relax on the lake in a resort town. It should be noted that the Equipment Dealers Association is a lobbying group that represents John Deere, Case New Holland, and other agriculture industry manufacturers and dealers, who have largely been responsible for imposing repair restrictions on tractors and other agricultural equipment.
Local Montana radio personality Aarron Flint hosted the event and broadcast it live on his Montana Talks radio show. Flint kicked off the discussion by reminding people that right-to-repair legislation had recently been defeated in the Montana legislature. “You had folks saying, ‘I just want the ability to repair my own equipment just like I’ve always done,’ but the nature of the equipment has changed over the years,” he said.
Montana attempted to pass three different versions of right-to-repair in the past few years and none have passed. State Senator Ryan Osmundson, a farmer himself, had proposed draft legislation to help make it easier for people to fix their own equipment after his constituents sounded the alarm. He later let the legislation die.
“I dropped that bill and that brought out a lot of folks that were concerned about that, and rightfully so,” Osmundson said on the panel. “And the Association actually came to me and said, ‘Hey, we’re working on this issue and we’re trying to get these diagnostic tools that you’re asking for to the consumer.’ And so, through that and through the discussions I had with the Manufacturer’s Association, I went ahead and did not move that bill forward.”
The Equipment Dealers Association Deere in particular has promised that it would make repairing its tractors easier by providing some access to parts and repair guides and has used that as ammunition to get right to repair bills killed; as of February this year, it had not actually begun offering new repair resources.
Osmundson and others said that much of the proposed right-to-repair legislation is too simple and naive for the complicated world of farm equipment. “There were things in that legislation that were…I mean, they had to sell parts at cost,” Osmundson said. “I mean, as a business owner, I know that doesn’t work.”
Flint also decried right-to-repair legislation for being government interference in the market. “There were provisions being inserted that were basically government mandated price controls where they were forcing private companies to give their supplies at cost,” Flint said.
These are pretty standard anti-repair talking points, that simply don’t reflect what right to repair advocates have been asking for.
Those familiar with the legislation told Motherboard that right-to-repair legislation never attempted to force manufacturers to sell anything at cost. “Right to Repair does not mandate price controls—it requires manufacturers to provide access to repair materials at a fair and reasonable cost, which would give farmers repair options and inject competition into the repair market,” U.S. PIRG Right to Repair advocate Kevin O’Reilly told Motherboard in an email. “This is just more smoke and mirrors from the parties that are making money hand over fist while farmers struggle to fix their tractors.”
John Deere has repeatedly promised to make it easier for farmers to fix the tractors and other equipment they purchased from the company. Despite protests to the contrary, it’s still difficult and expensive to do repairs that were simple a generation ago. It’s such a persistent problem that there’s a booming market in 40 year old pre-electronic tractors.
The right-to-repair is having a big year. States, cities, and even the country are considering laws to make it easier for people to fix their own stuff. Microsoft recently caved to pressure from investors and announced it will support the right-to-repair. In Washington, the FTC has committed to supporting right-to-repair and Biden signed an executive order aimed at making it easier for people to fix their own stuff.
In Montana, politicians and lobbyists gathered an attempt to stem the legislative tide. “It’s clear that this event was more about opponents of Right to Repair making their case than an honest discussion of the policy. But I’m glad that representatives from the Montana Farm Bureau and the Montana Grain Growers were there to stress the ways that repair restrictions prevent farmers from getting the job done,” O’Reilly said. “I can tell you this: we aren’t golfing with manufacturer lobbyists at mountain resorts, we’re talking to farmers to learn the truth. Lawmakers should do the same.”
The Montana Equipment Dealers Association did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.
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