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Colorado lawmakers approve right to repair agricultural equipment

Modern agricultural equipment often runs on advanced computer software, and, currently, some manufacturers prohibit access to these systems or do not provide information on how they work.

LKY: wow. I had no idea this was a problem!

ERIE, CO - APRIL 7: Farmer Paul Schlagel drives his tractor planting and fertilizing sugar beets on this 80 acre parcel on April 7, 2020 in Erie, Colorado. Schlagel works some 1,500 acres in irrigated row crops including these sugar beets, as well as corn and barley. (Photo By Kathryn Scott)

An effort to give Colorado farmers access to the resources needed to repair their own agricultural equipment passed its final legislative vote on Thursday. Modern agricultural equipment often runs on advanced computer software, and, currently, some manufacturers prohibit access to these systems or do not provide information on how they work. House Bill 1011 would require manufacturers to sell tools, parts and digital access to farmers and independent repair shops to diagnose and fix problems with equipment, beginning in 2024. The Senate approved the bill on Thursday, following the House's passage last month. “A broken tractor or combine during harvest season can be devastating, and makes an already difficult job that much harder," said bill sponsor Sen. Janice Marchman, D-Loveland. "Farmers should be able to apply know-how and elbow grease to fix their own equipment instead of being forced to use an authorized dealer." Senators voted, 25-8, in support of the bill. All Democrats voted "yes," while Republicans were split with three in support, eight in opposition and one excused. In the House, the bill passed 44-17, with all but one Democrat in support and all but two Republicans in opposition. The bill is sponsored by three Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Ron Weinberg of Loveland. Some Republican critics of the bill said they are worried about hurting manufacturers and dealerships of agricultural equipment that rely on revenue from repairs to stay in business. Others argued that right to repair is not even needed. Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, is a farmer who represents "thousands" of other farmers and said his equipment dealerships "have never failed" him. "It is really a solution looking for a problem," Simpson said. "Since the bill was introduced, I've had a grand total of four people approach me about supporting the bill." Sen. Rod Pelton, R-Cheyenne Wells, echoed this claim, saying, "I had a farmer that I drive his combine for him during wheat harvest. He told me, 'I don't want to know. I want the technician from the dealership to work on my stuff.'" Other farmers testified in support of the bill during public hearings, telling stories of having to wait weeks and pay thousands of dollars to manufacturers to conduct repairs they said they could have done themselves. Danny Wood said he paid $950 for a technician to type in a code to unlock his tractor — after he had already paid $8,500 for them to repair the tractor two days before. Dale McCall said he he spent $6,000 for technicians to work on his hay balers for over three weeks without fixing them, causing him to miss harvesting deadlines. After convincing the manufacturer to give him access to the software, McCall’s son fixed the balers in less than two hours, he said. "My constituents personally reached out and asked me to join this bill because of the problems that they have been having," said bill sponsor Sen. Nick Hinrichsen, D-Pueblo. “If you can’t repair something that’s yours, do you really own it? I would argue no, which is why this legislation is so important." The bill is backed by the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Colorado Cattlemen's Association, National Federation of Independent Business and the Colorado growers associations of corn, wool, wheat, fruit and vegetables. Manufacturers stood in opposition to the bill, arguing it would give farmers the ability to tamper with equipment beyond repairs, such as increasing a machine’s horsepower or by passing emissions control systems. In response to this concern, sponsors amended the bill to clarify that these changes would still be illegal and that the dealer is not liable for a change someone makes to the products. The bill was also amended to automatically repeal if the federal government enacts legislation establishing the right to repair agricultural equipment and to allow memorandums of understanding to overrule the bill if the memorandum is actively in effect and adequately gives owners the tools or information needed to repair their own equipment. This change came from critics arguing that the private sector is handling the problem itself, pointing to the manufacturing company John Deere reaching a private agreement with the American Farm Bureau Federation in January. While the agreement has no enforcement provision, in it John Deere promises to offer farmers and independent repair shops access to purchase software, manuals and other information needed to service their equipment. The bill will now be sent back to the House to approve changes made by the Senate, then to Gov. Jared Polis for final consideration in the coming weeks.

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