11 states consider ‘right to repair’ for farming equipment
By Jesse Bedayn in Denver
DENVER (AP) — On Colorado’s northeastern plains, where the pencil-straight horizon divides golden fields and blue sky, a farmer named Danny Wood scrambles to plant and harvest proso millet, dryland corn and winter wheat in short, seasonal windows. That is until his high-tech Steiger 370 tractor conks out.
The tractor’s manufacturer doesn’t allow Wood to make certain fixes himself, and last spring his fertilizing operations were stalled for three days before the servicer arrived to add a few lines of missing computer code for $950.
“That’s where they have us over the barrel, it’s more like we are renting it than buying it,” said Wood, who spent $300,000 on the used tractor.
Wood’s plight, echoed by farmers across the country, has pushed lawmakers in Colorado and 10 other states to introduce bills that would force manufacturers to provide the tools, software, parts and manuals needed for farmers to do their own repairs — thereby avoiding steep labor costs and delays that imperil profits.
“The manufacturers and the dealers have a monopoly on that repair market because it’s lucrative,” said Rep. Brianna Titone, a Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors. “(Farmers) just want to get their machine going again.”
In Colorado, the legislation is largely being pushed by Democrats while their Republican colleagues find themselves stuck in a tough spot: torn between right-leaning farming constituents asking to be able to repair their own machines and the manufacturing businesses that oppose the idea.
The manufacturers argue that changing the current practice with this type of legislation would force companies to expose trade secrets. They also say it would make it easier for farmers to tinker with the software and illegally crank up the horsepower and bypass the emissions controller — risking operators’ safety and the environment.
Similar arguments around intellectual property have been leveled against the broader campaign called ‘right to repair,’ which has picked up steam across the country — crusading for the right to fix everything from iPhones to hospital ventilatorsduring the pandemic.
In 2011, Congress passed a law ensuring that car owners and independent mechanics — not just authorized dealerships — had access to the necessary tools and information to fix problems.
Ten years later, the Federal Trade Commission pledged to beef up its right to repair enforcement at the direction of President Joe Biden. And just last year, Titone sponsored and passed Colorado’s first right to repair law, empowering people who use wheelchairs with the tools and information to fix them.
For the right to repair farm equipment — from thin tractors used between grape vines to behemoth combines for harvesting grain that can cost over half a million dollars — Colorado is joined by 10 states including Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Texas and Vermont.
Many of the bills are finding bipartisan support, said Nathan Proctor, who leads Public Interest Research Group’s national right to repair campaign. But in Colorado’s House committee on agriculture, Democrats pushed the bill forward in a 9-4 vote along party lines, with Republicans in opposition even though the bill’s second sponsor is Republican Rep. Ron Weinberg.
“That’s really surprising, and that upset me,” said the Republican Wood.
Wood’s tractor, which flies an American flag reading “Farmers First,” isn’t his only machine to break down. His grain harvesting combine was dropping into idle, but the servicer took five days to arrive on Wood’s farm — a setback that could mean a hail storm decimates a wheat field or the soil temperature moves beyond the Goldilocks zone for planting.
“Our crop is ready to harvest and we can’t wait five days, but there was nothing else to do,” said Wood. “When it’s broke down you just sit there and wait and that’s not acceptable. You can be losing $85,000 a day.”
Rep. Richard Holtorf, the Republican who represents Wood’s district and is a farmer himself, said he’s being pulled between his constituents and the dealerships in his district covering the largely rural northeast corner of the state. He voted against the measure because he believes it will financially impact local dealerships in rural areas and could jeopardize trade secrets.
“I do sympathize with my farmers,” said Holtorf, but he added, “I don’t think it’s the role of government to be forcing the sale of their intellectual property.”
At the packed hearing last week that spilled into a second room in Colorado’s Capitol, the core concerns raised in testimony were farmers illegally slipping around the emissions control and cranking up the horsepower.
“I know growers, if they can change horsepower and they can change emissions they are going to do it,” said Russ Ball, sales manager at 21st Century Equipment, a John Deere dealership in Western states.
The bill’s proponents acknowledged that the legislation could make it easier for operators to modify horsepower and emissions controls, but argued that farmers are already able to tinker with their machines and doing so would remain illegal.
This January, the Farm Bureau and the farm equipment manufacturer John Deere did sign a memorandum of understanding — a right to repair agreement made in the free market and without government intervention. The agreement stipulates that John Deere will share some parts, diagnostic and repair codes, and manuals to allow farmers to do their own fixes.
The Colorado bill’s detractors laud that agreement as a strong middle ground while Titone said it wasn’t enough, evidenced by six of Colorado’s biggest farmworker associations that support the bill.
Proctor, who is tracking 20 right to repair proposals in a number of industries across the country, said the memorandum of understanding has fallen far short.
“Farmers are saying no,” Proctor said. “We want the real thing.”
Jesse Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Canada saw decline in fresh fruit, vegetable availability in 2022: StatCan
Statistics Canada says fewer fresh fruits and vegetables were available to Canadians in 2022, due to factors such as ongoing supply chain issues, labour shortages and price increases. Assorted fruit is shown at a market in Montreal on Thursday, June 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Statistics Canada says fewer fresh fruits and vegetables were available to Canadians in 2022, due to factors such as ongoing supply chain issues, labour shortages and price increases.
StatCan says the amount of available fresh fruit declined by more than five per cent in 2022 from the previous year, to 72.9 kilograms per person.
Even though there was a 12.7 per cent increase in domestic fruit production, it was not enough to keep up with an increase in exports and a decrease in imports, the agency says in a report released today.
The availability of fresh vegetables — excluding potatoes — was 64.7 kilograms per person in 2022, a decrease of nearly six per cent from 2021.
Just like with fruits, Canada’s vegetable production increases in 2022 were not enough to keep up with a rise in exports and a drop in imports, StatCan says.
The agency says some Canadian food industry sectors experienced record production in 2022, but also exported more food internationally than the previous year.
It says the entire industry was affected by pandemic-related supply chain issues, such as shipping delays and shortages of labour and products.
StatCan also cites price increases as one of the factors. Extreme weather, the war in Ukraine and energy costs severely impacted global food prices last year.
Food inflation was stubbornly high in Canada in 2022, outpacing overall inflation. Grocery prices were up 9.8 per cent in 2022 compared with 2021, the fastest pace since 1981.
StatCan’s latest report says the amount of milk available to Canadians also decreased by nearly four per cent in 2022, compared to the previous year.
StatCan says that was mainly caused by a drop in production of one per cent milk and two per cent milk.
In contrast, red meat availability increased by 4.3 per cent in 2022, led by beef as cattle slaughter increased from the previous year. The amount of poultry available to Canadians increased by 1.5 per cent.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2023.
Pilot program for temporary agricultural workers extended after rocky pandemic start
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser arrives to a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 2, 2023. Fraser says the government will expand a pilot project to attract more temporary foreign workers to accept jobs in Canada’s agricultural industry for another two years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser says the government will expand a pilot project to attract more temporary foreign workers to jobs in Canada’s agricultural industry for another two years.
The government launched the program three years ago to offer temporary workers in the agriculture and food sector a pathway to permanent residency in Canada.
It was due to end later this month but Fraser says it’s going to continue until 2025.
He says the pilot experienced some challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the government wants more time to test it out.
The minister also says the family members of workers who make it into the program will be given open work permits so they can earn a living while they’re in Canada.
The agricultural sector is struggling with labour shortages, and the minister says if they’re not addressed it could hurt Canada’s food security.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2023.
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