by Anna Gustafson, Michigan Advance
August 23, 2023
Farmers, environmental groups and farming advocates from across Michigan are urging state lawmakers to pass House Bill 4673, which would allow farmers and ranchers to fix their own equipment instead of being forced to turn to manufacturer-authorized repair centers for what they said often amounts to costly and time-consuming assistance.
“Farmers are at the frontlines of delivering us the quality, fresh products that Michiganders proudly enjoy and use to feed themselves and their families,” a group of 31 organizations, farmers and other advocates wrote in an Aug. 22 letter to state lawmakers. “But right now, farmers and ranchers might have to travel over a hundred miles just to get a tractor or combine repaired at an authorized repair center. This is an unfair reality that is all too common across rural farming.”
Equipment manufacturers often require customers to use authorized dealers for repairs, and Michigan farmers said the inability to perform their own work has left them to deal with soaring costs at a time when farmers are struggling to make ends meet.
The Agricultural Equipment Repair Act, often colloquially referred to as “right to repair” and introduced in May by state Rep. Reggie Miller (D-Van Buren Twp.), would mandate that original equipment makers and authorized repair providers make tools, parts, manuals and other necessary items available to farmers and independent shops to conduct their own repairs.
Similar to legislation being passed in states across the country, the Michigan bill would provide relief for farmers who are now driving for hours to reach an authorized repair center and pay significant repair costs, farming advocates said.
“As a fourth-generation family farmer, I’ve seen up close how wealthy corporations unfairly raise prices on products and equipment I need to grow food,” Bob Thompson, president of the Michigan Farmers Union, said in a press release issued by Progress Michigan. “The state legislature has an enormous opportunity with HB 4673 to deliver for independent farmers, ranchers, and rural farming communities, saving us time and our hard-earned money.”
In addition to the Michigan Farmers Union and Progress Michigan, groups that signed the Aug. 22 letter to state lawmakers included the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Michigan Food and Farming Systems, Michigan Climate Action Network, Michigan United, Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance, Sierra Club Michigan, and Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, among others. A complete list of the groups and farmers who signed the letter can be seen here.
“Passing ‘right to repair’ legislation is imperative to the well-being of all farms, of any size or scale,” said Jennifer Silveri, co-executive director of Michigan Food and Farming Systems. “Farming is a time sensitive business and farmers cannot afford to waste time, energy, and exorbitant amounts of money hauling their tractors hundreds of miles to dealer repair shops during the harvest season. Let farmers and local mechanics fix their equipment close to home and at much lower prices so they can spend their time, energy and money doing their job feeding our communities.”
Farmers being able to fix their own equipment has landed significant bipartisan support. According to a poll released by Progress Michigan in April, 81% of Michigan voters backed it.
“It’s time wealthy corporations stop gouging farmers and the folks those farmers grow food for,” said Sam Inglot, executive director of Progress Michigan. “’Right to repair’ is a commonsense policy that directly benefits the folks who grow our food. That’s why Michigan should join other states, like Colorado, in passing our own Right to Repair legislation.”
The House Agriculture Committee, led by Miller, held a hearing on House Bill 4673 in June. The legislation, which has garnered 37 co-sponsors, remains in committee.
During the committee’s June 7 hearing, North American Equipment Dealers Association Vice President Eric Wareham spoke in opposition to the bill. He took issue with the legislation specifying that equipment manufacturers and repair centers would have to provide the tools, parts, manuals and other goods at “fair and reasonable costs.”
“This legislation to us is not about access and availability to parts, tools, documentation, diagnostics,” Wareham said at the hearing. “The main thrust of this bill and the operational provision that it has, the mandate that it creates, is fixing the price of parts at dealer net cost.”
When introducing the bill in May, Miller called the legislation “common sense.”
“This bill will save Michigan’s farmers time and money by giving them the freedom to make their own repairs and maintenance decisions,” Miller said in May. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this bill over the finish line.”
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