- Author: Konrad Mathesius
I can fix most things on my Ford Ranger. It's about three parts more complicated than a 1960s VW beetle. When I can't fix it, I don't have to take it to a Ford dealer. This is because a pile of ‘right-to-repair' legislation was introduced in the early 2000s that eventually culminated in an automotive industry agreement to provide the same access to information to third parties as they would to dealers.
The initial agreement only extended to cars and trucks. As such, advocates for the repair industry have begun pushing for folks to expand legislation to include agricultural machinery and phones. Envision a high-tech computer in a new tractor that incessantly beeps at you for some reason but can only be serviced by a tech from that company. Now imagine that those techs are either out of state, overbooked, and/or pricey. Right-to-repair legislation is meant to make it easier for your local mechanic, and even you, to get access to the how-to.
From the perspective of someone who wants to see precision agriculture become commonplace by helping growers gain access to hardware and software that they can operate independent of subscriptions and contracts (much like your grandfather's horse belonged completely to him once it was bought and paid for), this seems like a step in the right direction.
Right-to-repair legislation extending to agriculture and even phones has been introduced in Minnesota, New York, and Nebraska. It's advanced furthest in Minnesota, but was stalled at the committee level in Nebraska. As with any legislation, there are several subdivisions of the bill that could potentially be leveraged by companies to limit access to information (i.e. you won't be able to build a combine from scratch as the bill removes ‘trade secrets' from the information that manufacturers are obliged to provide), but generally the legislation could be a non-partisan proposal that addresses some of the more common issues as seen in this Guardian article from last month.
It's unlikely that California will see any movement for this type of legislation until at least sometime next year (the filing deadline for new legislation falls around mid-January). In an era when much of the U.S. is divided by mutual partisan banter, right-to-repair is something that could be championed as a non-partisan way to serve constituents. Those with opinions on this type of legislation should speak with their state-level Assembly and Senate members and/ or members of the Farm Bureau.
The easier it is to access information on repair, the more likely it will be that growers can invest in the often cost-prohibitive equipment required to take California into the next stages of precision agriculture such as variable rate application, self-driving vehicles, and precision irrigation. Those tools will play a role in making California competitive even in the production of worldwide staples such as wheat, corn, and beans.