by Cathy Lennon, General Manager, OFA Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Earlier this month, John Deere, one of the world’s largest farm equipment manufacturers, signed a “right to repair” memorandum of understanding with the American Farm Bureau. This means farmers in the United States now have the right to fix their John Deere tractors and other farm equipment either themselves or through an independent third party.
This is a major shift for the agriculture sector, where Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) in both Canada and the United States have long restricted farmers’ ability to access the technology embedded in their products, including diagnostic and repair codes and service manuals.
By comparison, right-to-repair legislation has been in place for decades in the automotive industry, where independent mechanics have the same diagnostic software and service manuals as OEM dealerships.
In Canada, without right-to-repair protection, farmers or someone not certified by the OEM who break a password or a digital lock to make a repair are in violation of the federal Copyright Act – and with digital systems and software increasingly embedded across a growing array of systems and equipment, this applies to more and more aspects of a farm business’ operations every year.
Copyright law was never intended to prevent people from repairing their own devices. And even though copyright law is federal, Ontario needs a right-to-repair framework for agricultural equipment so that repair manuals, parts and tools are available, and manufacturers can’t deliberately make products unrepairable.
Bill C244, An Act to Amend the Copyright Act (diagnosis, maintenance, and repair), was introduced in the House of Commons on February 8, 2022. It is currently before the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Industry and Technology for review.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) supports legislation that lets people make repairs, run diagnostics and conduct maintenance. We understand that farmers cannot afford to be dependent on a dealer schedule to fix what could be as simple as a faulty fuel sensor – especially during busy planting and harvest seasons where field work must be completed as quickly as possible.
We need this legislation to ensure OEM-approved tools, replacement parts and repair manuals are available for Canadian electronic and farm equipment aftermarkets. Doing in-field repairs themselves or calling an independent technician can minimize costly downtime and avoid a lengthy trip to the dealership.
Farmers also need assurance that equipment repairs done by non-OEM certified shops do not violate any warranties and want clarity about operator or OEM liability if an accident does occur on repaired equipment.
At the same time, we understand that OEMs need to protect their intellectual property, and that safeguards need to be in place to prevent the modification of software in ways that would circumvent the original design and function of the equipment.
That’s why farmers aren’t asking for the right to modify software or expose OEM intellectual property, but instead, support a framework that allows for decoding of digital locks for diagnosis, repair and maintenance.
The new MOU signed by John Deere and the American Farm Bureau has the potential to serve as a model for other manufacturers and in other jurisdictions to enable a framework where manufacturers and consumers can work together to protect everyone’s rights and improve the playing field when it comes to repairs.
The OFA supports a framework for farm equipment, as with other vehicles, that does not compromise safety and emissions standards, ensures products are repairable and that spare parts and tools are accessible. An amended federal Copyright Act that protects manufacturer technology copyrights, combined with provincial laws giving people the right to repair the things we own will help level the playing field in the agricultural sector and support the competitiveness and profitability of our industry.