In the face of stiff opposition from farm equipment companies and dealers, North Carolina state senators on Tuesday walked back a provision that would have widened access to the repair of farming equipment.
The so-called “right to repair” provision was included in the Farm Act of 2022, Senate Bill 762, which was discussed Tuesday in the Senate’s Agriculture, Energy and Environment Committee. As introduced, the bill would have required manufacturers of farming equipment that relies on digital components to make diagnostic equipment and parts available at “fair and reasonable terms.”
Representatives of national farm equipment trade groups and North Carolina equipment dealers opposed the bill. Allowing repairs outside of authorized shops, they argued, could damage equipment, pose a risk of injury, and make it possible for farming equipment to violate the Clean Air Act.
After hearing from seven people, Sen. Brent Jackson, a Sampson County Republican, replaced the right to repair provision with language calling on the General Assembly’s Agricultural and Forestry Awareness Study Commission to evaluate whether further action is necessary.
“That way we can go to the farmers where they live and breathe and work and see what they can do,” Jackson said. “And at the end of the day, we might change something or we might do nothing.”
The right to repair has received attention on the federal level, with Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, introducing legislation that would expand farmers’ ability to repair equipment that depends on electronic components.
Several farming groups have filed a Federal Trade Commission complaint against John Deere, alleging that the company engages in unfair and deceptive trade practices by withholding important information and parts from owners and repair shops, forcing farmers to take their equipment to registered dealers.
Jackson said he had not spoken with any national organizations before introducing the Farm Act.
David Daniels, who introduced himself as an independent repair shop owner, said he frequently sees farmers break down in the road or a field who need to wait for a repair person to come run diagnostic software.
“I’m just here for the farmers. They need help with this. This needs to pass,” Daniels said.
Dealers call the right to repair legislation unnecessary and potentially dangerous.
Thomas Dement, the strategic planning manager for James River Equipment, said many diagnostic tools and mobile service capabilities are already available to farmers. Dement also pointed to the U.S. Clean Air Act, arguing that the Farm Act provision could violate a part of the federal legislation that requires manufacturers to install tampering safeguards, including to software that measures vehicle emissions.
“We believe that this bill is in direct contradiction to the U.S. Clean Air Act,” Dement said.
Dement and other dealers also said the right to repair provision could be “devastating” to their businesses, causing supply inventories and staff training to plummet in value.
Bryan Dobson, the CEO of licensed John Deere dealer Quality Equipment, warned against modifying crucial software.
“It can create major safety concerns. These are extremely sophisticated machines,” Dobson warned.
Dealers, Dobson added, offer manufacturers a way to have some oversight into how their software is being used and modified to make sure it’s being done safely.
“There was no intention to hurt the dealers. That’s never been our intention,” Jackson said.
This year’s Farm Act also permanently exempts hemp from North Carolina’s Controlled Substances Act, a necessary step because a stopgap exemption is set to expire within months. Another provision ensures that conservation easements remain intact on properties that are foreclosed upon.
The Farm Act is set to next appear Wednesday morning in the Senate Judiciary Committee. If approved there, it has to pass through the Senate Finance and Rules committees before returning to the floor.
This story was produced with financial support from 1Earth Fund, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.