Out to Pasture

Repair restrictions lead to tractor downtime and high costs. Right to Repair would help.

Manufacturer-imposed repair restrictions make equipment breakdowns even more painful by forcing farmers to rely on their dealership for many fixes. Right to Repair reforms would save U.S. farmers $4.2 Billion per year by providing farmers with independent repair options.

A green combine harvests golden wheat
Alex Fu | Used by permission
PIRG Right to Repair Campaign Director speaks at a podium in front of a National Farmers Union backdrop.
Kevin O'Reilly

Former Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

If a farmer’s equipment breaks down at the wrong time and they can’t get it fixed, farmers can be forced to watch as their crop—and their profits—wither on the vine. Manufacturer-imposed repair restrictions can turn a tractor or combine breakdown into weeks or months of equipment downtime, which can lead to crop losses as tight planting and harvesting windows close or harsh weather threatens.

Prior U.S. PIRG Education Fund research has demonstrated how modern farm equipment has been engineered to limit repair choices. Farmers and independent mechanics cannot access the software they need to comprehensively diagnose and troubleshoot tractors, nor can they install the embedded software necessary to electronically pair replacement parts to a machine—a process necessary to complete many repairs. As a result, they need to wait for a dealer to perform these functions. Delays and equipment downtime ensue.

A blue tractor spits out dollar bills as exhaust.

Photo by Alec Meltzer | TPIN

Photo by Alec Meltzer | TPIN

Photo by Alec Meltzer | TPIN

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Downtime is dying time for crops

U.S. PIRG Education Fund and National Farmers Union surveyed 53 farmers across 14 states to compare the repair costs, labor hours and downtime that results from breakdowns that farmers fix themselves versus those that an independent or dealer mechanic performs repairs. The model we created from this data found that the group loses an average of $3,348 per year to downtime caused by repair restrictions.

If all U.S. farmers experience similar losses, that would mean the downtime resulting from repair restrictions is costing American producers more than $3 billion each year.

Dealer repair ain’t cheap

At the same time, the cost of repair is increasing. Analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data shows that farmers’ repair costs have nearly doubled over the past two decades for soybeans and corn, two commonly grown crops. These increases coincide with the trend of increasing amounts of software and software-linked parts in farm equipment—a major mechanism through which manufacturers restrict independent repair.

Staff | TPIN
Data from 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture.

Right to Repair reforms—which would require equipment manufacturers to provide farmers and independent repair technicians with access to the necessary repair parts, tools, software and documentation on fair and reasonable terms—would provide farmers with the repair choices they need to ensure that they can fix their equipment as soon as possible. It would also help drive down repair costs. Surveyed farmers report that dealer mechanics charge an average of $58.90 more per hour of labor than independent mechanics.The higher dealer labor rates cost our sample an average of $1,328 per year. 

Assuming other U.S. farmers experience the same increased rates, repair restrictions are costing them $1.2 billion dollars annually. That means Right to Repair could save farmers a resounding $4.2 billion each year.

Read the full report.


Kevin O'Reilly

Former Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair, U.S. PIRG Education Fund