Bell, Lang, Fortier: Let Vermont loggers fix their own machines

by Jack Bell, Paul Lang, and Allen Fortier We at Long View Forest are writing in support of the Right to Repair legislation in the House this week. This bill would empower loggers and farmers like us to make faster and less expensive repairs to the machines we use to do our work. It would accomplish this by requiring original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to make all the necessary tools, parts, manuals and diagnostic equipment needed to perform repairs available to loggers, farmers, and the independent repair shops we often use.

Long View Forest is an employee-owned Vermont company founded 24 years ago. We started as a three-person logging crew and have grown into a diversified operation with 35 employees providing complete services to owners and managers of forestland.

Two years ago, we also became the US distributor and local dealer for Rottne Industries - a manufacturer of specialized cut-to-length logging equipment made in Sweden. These technologically advanced machines have been part of our success at Long View by helping us do more high-quality logging work in less time. They have also made us safer working in enclosed cabs and make it easier to deal with the warm, wet weather we are seeing. We’re excited to now be able to support other loggers who already use these machines or are interested in making the change to cut-to-length equipment.

A downside of all modern complex machinery is that breakdowns are now the result of problems with sensors, computer circuits, and integrated engine, hydraulic, and transmission systems, as or more often than they are the result of old fashioned broken big parts you can see with your eyes and touch with your hands. Loggers and farmers now need not only the knowledge and skills to make more complicated repairs but also specialized tools, parts, manuals, and diagnostic equipment. Unfortunately, OEMs do not always make these fully available to the people who own and operate their equipment.

For example, loggers and farmers who own John Deere equipment (or other brands like Rottne that use John Deere engines) can buy a limited version of OEM diagnostic software and tooling called “Customer Service Advisor” for about $5,000 of up-front cost and then $3,000 per year recurring. However, after spending $5,000 for this limited “customer” version, a logger or farmer may find all they can do is diagnose their problem since essential functions like reprogramming and updating are not included. At that point, they need to hire a certified dealer to come out to the machine (often 2-3 days later) at a cost that can surpass $3,000 per day and may or may not result in the machine being fixed right away.

Most people know that as Vermont loggers and farmers we depend on the weather for our livelihoods and tend to be independent and self-sufficient. This is part choice and part necessity since margins tend to be slim and every day and dollar of production counts. We are usually working far from population centers and need to fix things ourselves or rely on local independent mechanics for help. We cannot always wait for big construction focused dealers to be available and sometimes simply cannot afford what they charge. This leaves Vermont loggers and farmers forced to choose between (1) downtime and very expensive dealer repairs and (2) illegal options like pirated software and emissions system “deletes”. This is not a choice we want to make but Vermonters should understand that it’s the reality of the situation today.

Broader access to OEM software and tools will translate to cost and time savings for businesses like Long View that are working to grow and support Vermont’s forestry economy. It will also reduce situations where equipment owners are modifying or disabling emissions systems or safety features since OEM tooling and software do not allow these kinds of changes.

We’re calling on the legislature to pass H.81 – the Right to Repair Act. Vermont’s loggers and farmers deserve the right to choose whether to perform repairs themselves, go to an independent repair shop, or use the official dealer. We want more options and competition in Vermont, not less. Although not every logger will make repairs themselves, manufacturers should not be allowed to limit our ability to fix our own machines.

Jack Bell is General Manager of Long View Forest, Inc in Hartland.