For 85 years, the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory has certified that the machinery used by farmers and ranchers lives up to manufacturers' claims. It all started in 1919 when Cornhusker State lawmaker and farmer Wilmot Crozier bought two tractors only to find they didn't work. Frustrated, Crozier helped to create a law making sure other farmers didn't endure similar problems.
Manufacturers are not required to submit products for evaluation, but only tested and certified tractors can be sold in Nebraska. Critics claim that puts the state's farmers at a disadvantage. And though legislative efforts to repeal the testing mandate have been indefinitely postponed, the future of the tractor lab remains uncertain. Laurel Bower Burgmaier explains.
The Nebraska law is simple. A manufacturer cannot sell an agricultural tractor above 40 horsepower unless the machine has been tested and its performance has been verified. If a tractor advertised at 100 horsepower tests at that level, it is approved for sale. If it makes less than 100 horsepower, and if the manufacturer cannot remedy that test result, then no sale permit will be issued.
Since most manufacturers want to sell their equipment in Nebraska, the testing provides valuable information for farmers in every state. Today, the Nebraska Tractor Test Lab is highly regarded worldwide for its tractor data, and is the only lab of its kind in North America. And, because of its success, other countries have followed in its footsteps. Currently, 28 other countries require tractor testing.
Leonard Bashford, Nebraska Tractor Test Lab: A farmer in Nebraska has never had to worry about the amount of power a tractor he's buying has. If the dealer says a tractor has 200 horsepower, it has 200 horsepower. We have never known in Nebraska since 1920 what it would be like to sell tractors without this information.
Some legislators and lobbyists are hoping to repeal the permit law and possibly change all that. For eight years, The Iowa-Nebraska Farm Equipment Dealers Association, a non-profit association that serves 480 farm, industrial and outdoor power equipment dealers in the states of Iowa and Nebraska, has been working to get rid of the permit requirement.
Andy Goodman, Iowa-Nebraska Farm Equipment Dealers Association: There are situations where dealers have lost sales to dealers in other state. Now, it might not seem like a big deal if I can't say to you there are thousands of cases of where the sales are being lost. But, if you are an individual or a dealer that loses and opportunity to sell one or two, two hundred thousand dollar tractors that is a substantial loss to you and it's a loss to your community.
The lab reports 23 of the 194 current models it has tested have not been permitted for sale in Nebraska. Of those, Kubota refuses to participate in the process altogether.
Leonard Bashford, Nebraska Tractor Test Lab: They used to, but in 1995, they said they weren't going to do it anymore. That is where it all started. But, there are other tractors that are not permitted. Some of the reasons are the manufacturer feels there is not a market for that tractor in Nebraska. Most of all the major lines have all been tested.
Lobbyists for the Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association continue to push bill LB212 through the Nebraska legislature. The bill would raise the minimum horsepower requirement for a tractor permit from 40 to 60 horsepower. Effective July 1, 2008, the section in the current law on permit requirements will be removed. The rest of the law will stay the same in regards to testing procedures.
Andy Goodman, Iowa-Nebraska Farm Epuipment Dealers Association: We're very supportive of the lab. We believe there is an important function for the lab and for testing tractors. The information provided to consumers has been very useful over the years, and we want to see that maintained.
However, the lab points out that the permit process and the third-party tests it conducts are tightly woven. Bashford says it's easy to over-simplify the issue.
Leonard Bashford, Nebraska Tractor Test Lab: I think some of the legislature has somewhat of a limited vision, that it's Nebraska that has a problem. But, I think we should say to the rest of the U.S. or the rest of North America yes, because of the permit law in Nebraska, you folks have all of this information available to you that you would not have available if there was no permit issue or no Nebraska law. The integrity is there and we know that the information we put out is valid, good information.
Another concern with changing the current permit law is the future of the lab. According to Farm Journal magazine, every major manufacturer but one has stated it won't test if the permit law is repealed. And, the lab tells Market to Market that while many of the manufacturers it works with believe in the tests, no single tractor maker wants to be alone in the testing if others refuse.
The Nebraska Farm Bureau originally favored eliminating the permit requirement for tractors, but then changed its position when many of its members became more concerned about keeping the lab open. The group says guaranteeing the lab's future outweighed the concerns farmers had about the availability of some tractors not sold in the state. In response, the association passed a resolution opposing the legislation.
Rob Robertson, Nebraska Farm Bureau: Our goal is to seek national legislation. We're trying to work with other agricultural organizations, equipment dealers, and national manufacturers to seek national legislation to build a coalition to seek a simple bill that would require a permit nationally.
Yet, all parties involved agree federal legislation won't be easy. A federal mandate for testing rather than a one-state law will be difficult. For now, though, farmers everywhere have Nebraska's permit on which to rely.
Leonard Bashford, Nebraska Tractor Test Lab: It requires all the manufacturers to test and it keeps the playing field level. The manufacturers all have the same rules to advertise. What would happen if the law went away? I think in three or four years, we would be done.
For Market to Market, I'm Laurel Bower Burgmaier.