Farmers have good cause for optimism after United States President Joe Biden recently signed an executive order calling consumers ‘right to repair’ to be prioritised, and specifically included tractors and other farming equipment.

When you need to get the hay in before it rains but the tractor’s computer is throwing a fit, getting it repaired quickly can not only be frustrating, but expensive and stressful.

Most tractors these days are internet-connected, and special diagnostic tools are often needed to repair them. But only authorized dealers have access to these or are allowed to use them.

So you often can’t fix software issues yourself, or get an independent mechanic to look at your pride and joy.

Though it’s been an ongoing concern for well over 10 years now the ‘right to repair’, especially for farming equipment, has been gaining traction.

In the US the movement has been particularly strong and often focused on their home-grown brand John Deere, after farmers baulked at not being able to fix their new machines themselves, as they had done in the past. Instead they were having to go the significantly more expensive and time consuming route through authorised repairers.

For many this is a simple case of big business impacting their rights as a consumer. After having spent a fortune buying this equipment, how they fix it should be up to them.

This has seen interest in pre-software second-hand tractors in good condition with low hours – often from the 1970s and 1980s – fetching a premium.

It’s also seen the rise of black market pirated tractor firmware often coming out of Eastern Europe.

Under pressure, agricultural equipment trade associations promised in 2018 to create, and sell or lease tools which would allow farmers to repair their own equipment. Those tools were meant to be available for equipment sold after January 2021, but that hasn’t happened.

Following Biden’s order The Federal Trade Commission in the US has now voted unanimously to prioritise the issue.

This also follows on from 27 states that are also considering some form of repair rights.

While nothing is set in concrete, this interest at a federal level is unprecedented and could well see big changes for consumer rights, both in the US and here, and not just for farmers and rural contractors.

The order was also aimed at other companies’ products like tech giant Apple, and other equipment manufacturers. This as more and more products include software as part of their operating systems.

Covid-19 has also highlighted the problem. Along with the obvious computers and smartphones, or that fancy new fridge, it has also impacted on medical equipment like ventilators in US hospitals. A long time concern for medical professionals, the issues of staff being unable to do software repairs, came to the fore as the pandemic raged, when time really was critical with delays having life and death consequences.