We live in a digital age and when our mobile devices break, we’re often forced to pay money to get them fixed even though we own them. Montana farmers and ranchers are in the same boat, but their repair bill can be substantially higher. One setback on any piece of farm equipment could end a season -or repairs could put them in severe debt. Now, a piece of legislation is putting a back log on farm equipment repairs.
"Farmers are an independent bunch. We're used to, if we have problems, fix it," said Walter Schweitzer, President of the Montana Farmers Union.
He explains why sometimes that's not possible. Schweitzer is a third generation farmer in Geyser. He relies on equipment in order to work the fields and in turn get food on your table.
"My John Deere Tractor here is having some issues causing it to shut down. I'm thinking it might be a heat sensor unit like this one here that's sending the wrong signal," said Schweitzer.
Walt says a major issue could cost up to $30,000 to fix. That's not including labor.
"I don't even want to think about it. Some of these people have spent $700,000-$800,000 for that piece of equipment and really they find out they're just leasing it, renting it, it's not theirs because they don't have the right to repair," said Schweitzer.
Right to repair is a law in several states allowing the consumer, in this case the farmer or rancher, to fix their own equipment without having to go back to the manufacturer.
The law applies to a handful of states, including Montana, but there's a catch, "I can't work on it because I need to have the dealer come out with their laptop, their software, and start troubleshooting that way," said Schweitzer.
He says technology doesn't necessarily apply.
According to Schweitzer, "My old tractor, I have service manuals that if it breaks down I can finger through those service manuals and I can troubleshoot and I can fix it, but with this tractor, I need the software. If I don't have the software there's nothing I can do. And that's wrong."
We’ve made phone calls to several equipment dealers like John Deere and they say there is a solution.
"As a producer if you own that tractor you can come in and buy all of the diagnostic tools to fix your tractor," said Ken Wheeler with Frontline Ag Solutions.
Some dealers make the equipment available, the catch is you have to buy it all and it's not cheap. The software alone costs close to $4,000. There are also cables and other tools you'll need in order to fix your tractors computer problem.
Wheeler puts things into perspective, "There are very very few farmers that have the time and they just say 'fix my stuff.' Because how many farmers do you know that are experts on every aspect of the farm life? They have to rely on the experts for something."
So the battle continues, farming equipment manufacturers look to compete in the industry with the latest technology and farmers like Walt look to keep more money on the farm and less in repairs.
Just days after this story aired, Montana Farmers Union released this statement regarding Right to Repair:
Montana Farmers Union Supports Senator Tester’s
Continued Efforts on Right to Repair
Great Falls, MT- Montana Farmers Union is pleased to see Senator Jon Tester put the issue of right to repair front and center via a letter to FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson. The letter explained the importance of right to repair when it comes to production agriculture and urged the FTC to take action.
Walter Schweitzer is President of Montana Farmers Union and operates a ranch near Geyser, MT. Schweitzer is experiencing first-hand the effects of not being able to repair his own equipment.
“I have a tractor that has been broken down for three weeks,” said Schweitzer. “It has been in the dealer’s shop and they have yet to replicate the problem. If I could own or rent the diagnostic software I could troubleshoot my equipment in the field and avoid costly delays. I own the tractor and should have the right to repair it. We sacrificed our markets to China over an intellectual property fight and now equipment manufacturers can hold your equipment hostage with that intellectual property. I commend Senator Tester for taking action on this very important issue.”
Montana Family Farms is sponsored by the Montana Farmers Union. Each story focuses on Walter Schweitzer’s life on the farm and a bigger impact on the industry across the Treasure State and beyond.