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Nebraska bill would give farmers right to repair own equipment

Posted at 6:27 PM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2023-02-09 11:42:32-05

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — Farm equipment is getting more sophisticated, with more computers and technology going into the huge pieces of equipment.

That can come with headaches — mainly, making it tougher to fix the equipment.

Farmers say they’re not even given the proper information to do it themselves and therefore are forced to pay thousands.

“It’s terribly frustrating," said Brandt. “We can fix this stuff, if we’re given access to it.”

Tom Brandt, a farmer when he’s not serving as a state senator in Lincoln, is seeking what he calls a "Farmer’s Bill of Rights" to repair their own equipment.

His bill would require farm equipment manufacturers like John Deere and Case, to make public information that owners can use when they have a computer issue on their combine.

“You just have to make it available to the owners. I’m not saying they have to make it available for free. The owners would still have to buy that from the local dealership,” said Brandt.

At the hearing in the Judiciary Committee on Thursday, farmers came from all over the state to testify. They said thousands of dollars can be saved by not going to a dealership for a quick fix.

“If I can take a little bit of the load off them and do it myself and save myself the expense that would be a great deal,” said Jerrad Stroh, a farmer from Central Nebraska.

Opponents pushed back, saying the bill isn’t about fixing equipment.

“This legislation really focuses on the ability to modify the equipment,” said Kevin Clark, who owns dozens of AKRS equipment dealerships across the state.

They’re worried owners can make modifications that effect the automatic steering mechanism and their emission output, which the Environmental Protection Agency monitors.

“If we don’t comply with their requirements they can up to and including, stop us from building engines. So the phrase nothing runs like a Deere is kind of a moot point if there is no engine,” said Grant Suhre, US Customer Support Manager for John Deere.

Suhre said at least his company already offers this information in detailed technical manuals on their website.

“Not all of the codes will be in the operator's manual. But you can certainly go on our bookstore and get the manual that has all the codes listed in that,” said Suhre.

Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Steve Lathrop, pointed out the obvious disconnect. The farmers are saying they need the information, the manufacturers say it’s already public.

Mark Hennessey — who’s in charge of Nebraska’s equipment dealers association — said the bill’s not needed, but it’s on the equipment manufacturers to communicate better.

“We don’t need to have legislation to create awareness. That’s a challenge we’ve got to do and we’ve got to do a better job of it,” said Hennessey.

In response, Brandt acknowledged that the industry has improved and some info is out there, but the bill would protect against the bad actors that still don’t make public the information that's needed.

“Would these farmers driven here today, if this was not an issue, really? I mean we’ve all got better things to do,” said Brandt.

In 2017, a similar bill did not make it out of the legislature. But that bill was more broad and included mobile phone technology.

Senator Brandt told 3 News Now that he thinks the fact that his bill is more narrow, and just focuses on ag equipment, will help get it passed.

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