WASHINGTON, D.C. — The high price of food at the grocery store may have you wondering what is going on at America's farms?
When you ask farmers if anything can be done to make their lives easier, one answer emerges quite frequently. And that is regarding the right to repair.
WHY SOME FARMERS DON'T BUY NEW
To call Sean Kayne a farmer wouldn't be quite right. While he owns dozens of acres near Providence, Rhode Island, he doesn't farm as a career. He grows food as a hobby. In fact, his day job focuses on computers and auto safety.
“I consider myself a part-time farmer,” Kayne said with a smile.
Sean, however, is experiencing something that is impacting the biggest farms and farmers in our country. Sean doesn’t want newer pieces of farm equipment because they are full of computer chips and software.
Those machines, he says, have become too complicated and costly to repair.
"I know that if something goes down on it, I can fix it," Kayne said as he pointed to his older pieces of farm equipment.
BIG ISSUE IN RURAL AMERICA
The issue of who has the right to repair farm equipment is a big issue in rural America right now. Many of the largest sellers of farm equipment say their own technicians and repairmen need to do it.
The topic brought Jared Wilson to Washington recently for National Agriculture Week. He’s a fifth-generation farmer from Butler, Missouri and unlike Sean, he needs the newer machines with the updated software to run his farm.
When his machine goes offline, delays are created waiting for specific technicians. Local, independent technicians are often not allowed access let alone the farmer.
"John Deere is the only company that can fix my equipment," Wilson said.
Delays on the farm, Wilson says, can mean higher food prices and even an increase in taxpayer-funded aid to farmers.
THE PUSH IN CONGRESS
Some in Congress are recognizing this as an issue and have proposed legislation to force companies to start sharing their technology. A separate legal fight has begun too.
President Joe Biden has signed executive orders asking agencies to address the issue. If you’re wondering why the world's largest tractor companies don't want farmers fixing their own machines, the answer is on John Deere’s website.
“Doing so creates risks related to safe operation of the machine,” a recent post reads.
However, within the last few weeks executives at John Deere announced a plan to start sharing more software information, beginning in May. Additional access is expected next year as well.
Back at Sean’s farm that’s still not enough for him to go out and buy something new.
"You get into the electronic stuff and you get into a different animal," Kayne said.