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Colorado is the first to pass a law allowing farmers to repair their own equipment


When today's high-tech farm equipment breaks down, it can be expensive and time consuming to get it fixed. Farmers and ranchers would be happy to do their own repairs, except they often don't have the tools and manuals they need. Last week, Colorado's Governor Jared Polis, signed a first-of-its-kind law in the country to change that. Here's reporter Lucas Brady Woods of member station KUNC.

LUCAS BRADY WOODS, BYLINE: A few miles from the Nebraska border on Colorado's Eastern Plains, Danny Wood's family has been growing wheat, corn and other grains for generations. Wood relies on rain to water his crops instead of irrigation, which means planting has to be carefully timed.

DANNY WOOD: If you don't get your crop planted or you lose in a hailstorm, it's just devastation, 'cause where do you - you don't go to work and get a paycheck. There went your paycheck.

WOODS: Wood has over a million dollars' worth of farm equipment like tractors, planters and combine harvesters to manage his 8,000 acres of crops. He bought his computerized tractor just over a year ago.

WOOD: This is the one that caused the problems.

WOODS: The massive red vehicle is controlled by touch-screen monitors. When it broke down, he had to wait four days for an authorized technician to come fix it at a cost of nearly $10,000.

WOOD: We tried everything, couldn't get it to work, so we just waited for them to come. And he put that code in. If they would have just told us the code, we could have put it in ourselves.

WOODS: Woods' experience is far from unique. Farmers and ranchers across the country can't fix their equipment because manufacturers don't give them access to the specialized tools and technical manuals to do so. Even simple repairs can't be done. But Colorado's new law guarantees the right to repair one's own agricultural equipment. It requires manufacturers to hand over parts, software instructions and other necessary tools. State Representative Brianna Titone helped write Colorado's law.

BRIANNA TITONE: This puts them in that category of being able to have the latest, greatest equipment and be able to stay on top of their repairs and keep moving and keep the production going and producing more stuff to grow and feed our communities. That's a good thing.

WOODS: Other states have tried and failed to pass similar legislation. The head of the National Farmers Union, Rob Larew says that's mostly because lawmakers don't understand the problem. To him, it's an individual rights issue.

ROB LAREW: If we think about it as our car or our phone or something like that, we have this idea that, you know, this is our property, right? Farmers are very independent. They feel the exact same way about their equipment that they've made an incredible investment in.

WOODS: Manufacturing trade groups have fought bills that allow user repairs. Joani Woelfel is the president of the Far West Equipment Dealers Association, which represents agricultural equipment dealers across the western U.S. She says the industry has put a lot of time and money into training technicians.

JOANI WOELFEL: They want to take everything that the industry has done, all the investment that they've made in their employees, and they want you to hand it over to them. And that's what that law tries to do.

WOODS: Woelfel says farmers and ranchers often have to wait days for a technician to show up because there aren't enough to go around. Danny Wood, back in northeast Colorado, says the new state law will help take some pressure off the technicians.

WOOD: They're going to have plenty of service. And when it takes five days for him to come look at your combine and three days for him to come back and look at your tractor, they're overbooked anyway, so they need some other help.

WOODS: He just wants farmers, like himself, to be able to fix what they can when they need to so they can successfully plant and harvest their crops.

For NPR News, I'm Lucas Brady Woods in Peetz, Colo.


Lucas Brady Woods