There’s an old farm saying that goes, “Make hay while the sun shines.” Well, there’s actually a reason for it.
In 1999 my husband and I brought our three kids to take over the farm I grew up on in the Eastern Upper Peninsula, and spent 20 years farming that land. Our life revolved around the weather, and you can imagine what it’s like to only have a few days to do something as simple as baling hay. Then imagine on day two, a big sprocket breaks in your hay baler. The closest, authorized dealership is more than two hours away, and they don’t even have the part you need, setting you back two weeks. You can’t wait so your entire crop has continued to mature, lost its nutritional value, and is no longer sellable.
Policymakers often don’t hear or see rural folks, and they don’t prioritize our issues. I founded Center for Change Northern Michigan Advocacy in 2019 out of a need to educate, inspire, and empower others for collective progressive advocacy in Northern Michigan. Luckily right now in the state legislature there’s a bill to ensure that you don’t have to waste an entire crop just because you couldn’t repair your equipment.
HB 4673, introduced by state Rep. Reggie Miller (D-Van Buren Twp.), seeks to empower farmers and ranchers by granting them the freedom to repair their own equipment or take it to a local repair shop. It’s time for the Legislature to pass this bill so farmers can save both time and money when it comes to something like a simple tractor fix.
The bill mandates that manufacturers and authorized repair providers make essential tools, parts, manuals, and other necessary items accessible to farmers and independent repair shops. The legislation addresses the challenges posed by the current system, where equipment manufacturers often require customers to use authorized dealers to repair the equipment they own, and instead enables farmers to make their own repairs.
As a small farmer and small business owner, my family and I operated on a tight budget, and when our farm equipment broke down, we were quite literally left to our own devices. Until we diversified our crops, we only got one paycheck a year when we sold our calves — an expense for repairs or a simple manual could knock out our income entirely. We had a Kubota dealer in our hometown, but the closest John Deere dealership was two and a half hours away. Having the information to do the repair yourself or take it to a local independent repair shop will be a game changer for small farmers.
In late August, Center for Change joined a coalition of 31 organizations, farmers, and advocates in signing a letter to state lawmakers urging them to pass HB 4673. We stated in that letter, “Consolidation in American agriculture means that farmers have fewer, more costly options when it comes to repairing farm equipment, at a time when farmers are already struggling to make ends meet.” By limiting where and how you can get your equipment repaired, manufacturers are forcing higher costs onto farmers that actively prevent us from getting our food to market, thereby eating into your breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
We’re looking for diagnostic tools and information on equipment to be made available to farmers rather than be held hostage by a wealthy corporation. People may be familiar with the recent agreements between the American Farm Bureau and farm equipment manufacturers to provide certain diagnostic tools and information to farmers and ranchers.
But here’s the thing: these agreements don’t have legal teeth, and these wealthy corporations can decide on a whim that they’re opting out. We need and deserve full protections for the equipment we own and depend on for the long term, just as the folks who depend on small farm operations deserve to get their products timely and reasonably. Having access to the repair schematics and universal parts for farm equipment is imperative for Michigan’s farmers and ranchers, and our state lawmakers must deliver by passing HB 4673. Stay engaged by contacting your lawmakers to urge them to pass this important bill for independent farmers and the folks who rely on them for food.