Agriculture and Right-to-Repair legislation
Politicians like to stand on the consumer's side when it comes to purchases and associated performance, which has led to several new "right-to-repair" laws and proposals in recent times. These regulatory changes could significantly impact the agricultural world, but unsurprisingly, the issue has supporters and detractors. What are some leading right-to-repair developments, and how could they impact agricultural stakeholders?
What Is Right-to-Repair?
A right-to-repair policy should ensure that a manufacturer's products last longer in the real world by allowing owners to get these devices independently repaired or modified. Before these laws, many manufacturers would restrict the repairs process in one of several ways.
Sometimes, the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) would limit access to parts, manuals, diagnostic tools, and replacement parts. This decision would make fixing products challenging for consumers and independent repair professionals. At other times, manufacturers would use digital rights management or software locks to control access. Only the authorised repair centres could access the products through a special authentication process.
Often, manufacturers would create a monopoly on repairs by insisting that a user could only take the product to an authorised service centre. These centres would have full access to the necessary tools and documentation, whereas independent shops would not.
Lastly, an OEM could intentionally design a piece of machinery so that crucial access panels would be difficult to open without the right proprietary tools, making it almost impossible to repair. Again, independent repair shops would have to turn down such a job if a customer were to present it.
Needless to say, such restrictions would often drive up the cost of an "official" repair, making it difficult for end users to justify and harder for them to turn a profit. They would often need to pass these costs on to the consumer, and, the right-to-repair movement has gained so much traction globally as a consequence.
Laws under discussion
New laws could sweep away these restrictions.
In Europe, recent proposals could force sellers to either repair or replace defective products, although the draft rules do not cover access to independent third-party repair shops. In the USA, the Agricultural Right to Repair Act insists that OEMs must provide information to make repair accessible, including access to digital or physical tools.
The impact of Right-to-Repair
If and when these rules come into force, they could impact the various agricultural industry sectors in a multitude of ways. These include:
Today, farmers often have to wait an extended period before getting someone appointed by the equipment maker to fix a problematic machine. They may have the know-how and tools to fix it, but the OEM may bar them from doing so under maintenance or guarantee rules. Legislation could lift these restrictions and allow farmers to get on with the work, avoiding stoppages and potential threats to national food security. Where the issue is electronic, the company would have to make vital information and software available to independent repair shops under pending legislation.
Repair persons and service technicians
Independent shops and technicians view right-to-repair legislation as a net positive. After all, they'll have access to business that they may not have seen before, and that would have previously gone to the big brands automatically. Instead, the OEMs must make software or specialised tools available to the buyer and, by extension, the independent service technician. Of course, these shops may need to invest in additional training, as they may now have to work with equipment they are not entirely familiar with. Further, they'll get the opportunity to cement relationships with local farmers and could become the "go-to" repair shop of choice.
Those responsible for transporting products from farm to table could benefit from the after-effects of right-to-repair legislation. If these rules lead to a more efficient and affordable repair job, this could reduce downtime for farmers. As such, this ought to improve the overall efficiency of the agricultural supply chain and benefit transporters by ensuring a reliable and timely flow of goods.
Aftermarket parts suppliers
If OEMs do not insist that farmers use original parts, this could open the market to aftermarket suppliers. In turn, this could see increased demand as farmers and repair shops seek to access necessary components.
If farmers have increased access to repair services, tools or software, this may reduce the frequency of equipment breakdown. In turn, this could potentially lower insurance claims and costs.
The case against Right-to-Repair
Some bodies oppose any right-to-repair legislation. Typically, they do so from a consumer safety angle. For example, they may advocate that if the end-user does not take the equipment to an OEM-authorised service provider, there's no guarantee the provider will fix it correctly. This situation could lead to safety problems and potential environmental damage if the machine does not operate as it should, following such "ill-advised" repair.
These trade bodies may worry that legislation could violate intellectual property protections and allow third parties to access trade secrets through shared information. OEMs are also concerned that they may face potential legal liabilities linked to unauthorised repairs. They may worry that someone will hold the OEM responsible for injuries or damages should something go wrong after a repair related to an independent technician.
What could happen next?
The challenge for legislators is significant. After all, it may be difficult to balance protecting IP, maintaining safety standards and supporting a competitive repair market. What rules emerge as negotiation continues remains to be seen.
How HLB can help
New or proposed right-to-repair legislation may impact your business in the agricultural sector, and if it does, you may need to turn to specialists for advice. HLB Global has a team of agriculture and food experts on hand who are fully aware of the global trends affecting the sector. Reach out to a trusted HLB adviser and localised HLB client team for further advice today.