Farmers deserve the right to repair their own equipment

Farmers are caught up in the age-old battle between common sense and greed.

Digitial locks prevent farmers from getting info out of their machinery

Farmers should be allowed to get the information they need to repair their equipment, says Scott Smith. (Scott Smith)

Farmers are caught up in the age-old battle between common sense and greed.

Digital technology has helped on the farm in a lot of ways. Machines perform better and are easier to use.

Unfortunately, large equipment makers are using that same technology to prevent farmers from troubleshooting and repairing their own equipment.

Modern farm machines can provide diagnostic information, error codes and instructions about what kind of repairs and servicing they require, but it's all kept behind digital locks. The only way to get the information is to have someone from the manufacturer bring out special equipment that acts as a digital key.

We need to press for solutions that benefit the person that paid for the product.- Scott Smith

We have seen this before, in the automotive industry.

All vehicles made since 1996 have had onboard diagnostic systems. Initially, the only way to get the information was with a dealer service tool. Neither the vehicle owner or local repair shops had access to the system.

This system was eventually challenged and overcome. The tools and information are now readily available.

Farmers need the same level of access. Whether they do the work themselves or use a local repair shop do the work, the farming community needs to be given options.

A history of self-repair

Farmers have always maintained their own equipment. I was reminded of this at a recent garage sale where I bought some old radio test equipment for tubes.

In the box, I found the instructions for a kit to build your own voltmeter, TV and radio. The farmer had built his own test equipment and then built the TV and radio for his farm house.

This was very high tech back in the 40s and 50s. As an electronics technician myself, I was impressed with the quality of workmanship inside the box.

'Ownership is broken'

The issues that affect Canadian farmers also impact the communities around them. The 500-plus rural companies that produce farm equipment will soon face challenges similar to farmers.

As more closed technology systems are introduced into equipment, many of the innovative farm implements made by "short line" will no longer work on large equipment.

Digital technology has improved farm efficiency in a lot of ways, Scott Smith says, but it is also being used to lock farmers out of their own equipment. (Scott Smith)

The digital lockouts that rob farmers of their right to repair are also looking to prevent the right to use third-party equipment. This is a disappointing trend by the large manufacturers to control the market, increase their market share and raise profits.

All of this has a direct impact on rural Canadians and diminishes our ability to participate in the economy.

Our government needs to step in to solve these issues. The right to repair and the right to innovate need to be provided and protected by legislation and enforcement.

We need to press for solutions that benefit the person that paid for the product. Today the manufacturer retains ownership of the technology even after you have paid for it.

Ownership is broken. Repairing it is job one.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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Scott Smith is an aircraft electronics technician by trade and has worked worldwide in aviation, radio communications, defence and now, the agricultural sector. Scott is working with provincial and federal government to ensure that our natural desire to build and repair stuff is secured for all Canadians for the years to come. Scott lives and works in rural Saskatchewan.


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