The right to repair debate heated up recently when U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order that may result in limiting manufacturers’ ability to restrict farmers from fixing their equipment themselves.
New technology has certainly been a boon to farmers in terms of reducing labour and improving production. But it’s come at the cost of having to go back to manufacturers for repairs. Basically, much of the digital technology in new farm equipment is locked at the factory.
The controversy has been going on for years now, with equipment manufacturers contending that giving farmers or their local mechanics access to the software is bad for safety and security reasons. But, as a CBC opinion column by Scott Smith stated a couple of years ago, “We need to press for solutions that benefit the person that paid for the product.”
Scott Smith is an aircraft electronics technician living in rural Saskatchewan, and he also pointed out that not only farmers are affected by these tactics: so are their communities. Smaller manufacturers of implements are getting squeezed out by the larger companies because what they’re producing won’t work with the closed computer systems of larger equipment.
We at the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario have long been believers in innovation and progress. We also come from a long line of mechanically minded people who have always been able to do for ourselves and overcome any barrier that gets in the way of us doing our job – growing the food that people eat.
Recently, we drafted a recommendation for the Ontario Agri-Food Research Initiative to invest in farm automation research while ensuring that emerging technology is farmer-focused and farmer-driven with a strong emphasis on the right to repair. This recommendation, based on findings from our 2021 Policy Tour, is part of a larger report set for release in early August.
Being able to repair our own equipment – or have a local mechanic do it – saves time, money and, potentially, our crops and livestock.
We’ve been through this before with automobiles. Fortunately, clearer heads prevailed, and we can now get our cars fixed without having to go back to the dealer. Our hope is that one day, we will be able to both stay current with technology and be able to support our own equipment and communities. We just need the government to step in and help out.