Big Farma Fails
February 12, 2015 4:59 AM   Subscribe

New High-Tech Farm Equipment Is a Nightmare for Farmers – Kyle Wiens of iFixit vs. the modern family farm tractor.
posted by cenoxo (52 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
we’ve asked for a DMCA exemption for farmers who want to modify and repair their equipment.

This is a terrible law made by terrible people for terrible reasons.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:07 AM on February 12, 2015 [33 favorites]


"The problem is that farmers are essentially driving around a giant black box outfitted with harvesting blades. Only manufacturers have the keys to those boxes. ... The dealer-repair game is just too lucrative for manufacturers to cede any control back to farmers."

Thanks, cenoxo. Interesting stuff.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:07 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nasty stuff. Small mom-and-pop farms are often saddled with crushing debt to afford these things to try to stay competitive in the first place, only to be fleeced when repair is needed.
posted by dr_dank at 5:13 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Buying an expensive piece of equipment that is a complicated proprietary black box really only makes sense if it comes with free service for an extended amount of time. At least Tesla got that right.
posted by droro at 5:24 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


I work in IT for a fairly large retailer with a customer base that is largely farm and ranch(small to midsized) so this article is like the perfect combination of my daily job. Thanks cenoxo!

I think this article is the perfect thing to hand someone who thinks all farmers are dumb hillbillies and rednecks. Very nice piece.
posted by Twain Device at 5:25 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Farm equipment is the new inkjet printer market.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 5:39 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]



First the DMCA applied to all of us and I said nothing.
Then they exempted 'real americans' and I said "Oh OK it's fixed now".
posted by srboisvert at 5:43 AM on February 12, 2015 [17 favorites]


What I really need is a droid that understands the binary language of moisture vaporators.
posted by Artw at 5:54 AM on February 12, 2015 [54 favorites]


I wonder if 1000 years from now when everything is different, "Dee-Arr-Emm" will be considered the name of some ancient demon, a la Canticle for Leibowitz.

Or a word for "taboo": "Do not go up to the standing stones on that hill, they are DRM!"
posted by Zarkonnen at 6:06 AM on February 12, 2015 [16 favorites]


The old server farm, haunted by drones.
posted by Artw at 6:10 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


One thing that the manufacturers have going against them is that farm equipment can have long lifetimes, and overhaul parts for popular models are easily available from third parties.
In a September issue of Farm Journal, farm auction expert Greg Peterson noted that demand for newer tractors was falling. Tellingly, the price of and demand for older tractors (without all the digital bells and whistles) has picked up.
Twenty years ago, when I was fixing tractors with my Dad, a lot of farmers in our district still had at least one Ford 9N that they used for odd jobs. The last year that the 9N was produced was 1953, but we were still doing overhauls on them in the '90s.
posted by clawsoon at 6:19 AM on February 12, 2015 [14 favorites]


No wonder you need Mad skillz.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:23 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


These days you pretty much aren't going to run any sizable farming operation without precision ag equipment, where everything (tractor, seeder, spray applicator, combine, etc) is GPS-enabled and is tracking application rates and production across all the fields. That data is combined with soil moisture and nutrient availability monitoring (sometimes yearly, sometimes in real time), as well as with irrigation application data in real time. Sometimes this is combined with drone imagery or other remote sensing data as well for additional real-time monitoring. Inputs like fertilizer are expensive, so farmers have a big incentive to upgrade equipment that can do this.

You can still run a hobby farm without any of that, but if you are managing a large operation you are already using at least some aspects of this and the economics (as well as environmental best practices and federal subsidies) will continue to push towards precision agriculture. Some old equipment can be retrofitted for the data collection, but not always, and if you want to be able to both collect application data and adjust application rates instantly (and automatically) as you go across the field, you will need the new equipment.

This is why all of the ag service companies I know are having a terrible time finding qualified service technicians, because the old days of sending out a well-muscled guy with a big hammer and a pipe wrench to make repairs is long gone. The service techs are making software fixes and everything else the article describes, while out in a field with an angry farmer standing there yelling about lost production. It's not easy work and it understandably pays well.

There is so much money in precision ag that I can understand companies attempting to keep things proprietary, though I would expect things to move in the direction of having independent service companies gaining the capacity to make the repairs. Farmers have always jury rigged repairs (we call those crude fixes "farmerizing" when we encounter them) but they have also always relied on service calls from equipment dealers; I wouldn't exagerate the self-reliance of farmers of old. Farmers are business people, and have always accessed outside expertise, including state extension offices, NRCS staff, equipment technicians, and seed and fertilizer representatives.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:24 AM on February 12, 2015 [16 favorites]


One of my best friends is, in addition to being a mind-blowingly great singer, a brilliant mechanic with 40 years of experience, the last 15 or so specializing in large farm equipment. Around the Ozarks he is known as the tractor whisperer. When a tractor breaks down mid-plowing or mid-harvest, the cost of taking that tractor out of service for even a day or two can be huge. So my friend is often called out to various farms around the region, traipses out to the middle of fields with farmers, and is known for being able to diagnose problems on site, which he does largely by using his ears (transferable skills from music to mechanics and vice versa!) if the motor is turning over or starting, at least. He can often diagnose the exact needed part or adjustment so the local shop (where he will know all the old boys doing the work, and they probably advised the farmer to call him in the first place) can be ready with the needed part or save time on the diagnosis or even, in many cases, the tractor can be fixed on site. It's super fun to go out with him and watch him listen to motors in the middle of fields. Ten or twenty seconds of focused listening and he can usually get it down to a precise analysis (like the particular cylinder or piston that's got the problem) to be followed up by looking inside the motor to confirm. I've seen very experienced mechanics look at him like he made a deal with the devil to obtain his skills.

Whole harvests hang in the balance with this stuff. A tractor going out at just the right moment can ruin a farmer's year. He is a very valued colleague for these abilities.

Just seemed like the right thread for this story. He was cursing about the unfixability of computerized vehicles back when he was still an auto mechanic, and beginning in the early 90s when I played in his band and cars were barely beginning to get computerized. And yeah, he's told me there's more demand in recent years for older tractors and the skillset that keeps them running, as more high tech gear has come online (and a whole bunch of cheap Asian tractor brands he considers to be worthless compared to an old Chalmers or Deere).

As long as I've known him he has disparaged anything digital as worthless "computerized crap" (including my guitar DSPs over the years, although he finally got online last year so he could watch gospel music youtube videos and search for antique guns, motorcycles, and real fire engines and musical instruments, all of which he collects and restores).
posted by spitbull at 6:35 AM on February 12, 2015 [37 favorites]


Looks like people are still fixing and using and buying and selling those old Ford N-series tractors, 60 years after production stopped. Wow. Makes me think of the B-52's record of service.
posted by clawsoon at 6:37 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I thought this comment over on Slashdot, fills in what is missing from this article.
posted by xmattxfx at 6:48 AM on February 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


I believe that the auto companies are required to sell the proprietary diagnostic equipment and manuals to independent mechanics. They used to do the exact same thing, if you wanted to know what the engine was complaining about you had to have the scan tools and only the dealers had them. This was partially fixed with the OBDII (On Board Diagnostics) port (that multi pin trapezoidal plug under your dash) that is on every car and speaks the same language and the same messages (i.e. cylinder 4 misfire or bad O2 sensor). That port covers most of the issues and only more specific esoteric things are covered on the proprietary CAN bus. You can still buy a scan tool for a brand new car that can read those codes and reset them.

Ag machines and Heavy trucks typically run a CAN bus that conforms to SAE J1939, which, similar to the OBDII standard has standard protocols and messages. Now, that likely wouldn't cover 'combine football motor inlet pressure sensor' so there are going to be proprietary messages. There should be legislation or regulations requiring the companies to release the details of the communication busses or at least their error codes. That would let someone with the right tool (a third party one even for just reading error codes) to read that error code and know which sensor to replace. Warranties already can't be voided (by law) if maintenance is performed by a private mechanic to prevent dealer monopoly on service. Available diagnostic tools are a key part of allowing that to happen. I'm not sure if there is an Ag equipment equivalent to the DOT, NHTSA(National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), or FMVSS(Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) that could regulate something like this.
posted by TheJoven at 7:05 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Wow. First Monsanto, now this. As if farming was not already a difficult job.
posted by freakazoid at 7:09 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


The DMCA future is going to happen very quickly and I don't think very many people realize how bad it is going to be. We have DRM in coffeemakers and locked-down firmware in cars and tractors; as more and more previously-mechanical functions are performed by software, there will be opportunities for manufacturers to create monopolies that were never possible before. Refrigerators that only work with the right brands of food, stoves that only work with the right brands of cookware, lawnmowers and snowblowers with region licensing that won't work if you move to the next state, and non-skippable ads on literally everything big enough to fit a chip—if these things seem far-fetched, you're not paying attention.
posted by enn at 7:19 AM on February 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


From iFixit as well: DRM Kitty Litter: The Only Thing Stupider than DRM Coffee
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:27 AM on February 12, 2015


Renovation program. Spare parts for 25 years. Who cares if it worked or not?
posted by a lungful of dragon at 7:32 AM on February 12, 2015


Who else loved that scene in Interstellar where he captures the drone and repurposes its "brain" to run his farm equipment?

That movie totally destroys.
posted by resurrexit at 7:34 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


One thing that the manufacturers have going against them is that farm equipment can have long lifetimes, and overhaul parts for popular models are easily available from third parties.

That's exactly what the manufacturers are trying to stamp out. At some point they'll cut off support for a 10-12yr old combine harvester, and farmers will be be forced onto the same upgrade cycle as an iPhone.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:37 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Christ. You people. The machinery gets better, more reliable, and more energy efficient. And yes this requires more sophisticated engine management tools.

I swear.. This shit is good. Its just that the cost of it is that you need to develop a new skill set to maintain the tools.

This is like complaining about the shift from horses to tractors "and I have to wait for the guy with this 'gasoline' to show up. What happened to the good old days when I just threw some oats in a trough"
posted by JPD at 7:45 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


They wont stop supporting the systems. Were going on decades of computerized engine control in cars - and the life span (and reliability) has done nothing but go up.
posted by JPD at 7:47 AM on February 12, 2015


I believe that the auto companies are required to sell the proprietary diagnostic equipment and manuals to independent mechanics.

Tesla wont even sell body parts to independent mechanics that don't sign some kind of contract with and pay lots of money to the company. They may be the most outrageously bad manufacturer around in this area, but the situation for passenger cars in general is pretty dire. OBD-II was okay from 1995 to 2005 or so, but it covers only a minority of even just the error codes my 8-year-old car can generate, which is the barest minimum of what you'd expect to have access to. I know that because a list of them used to be possible to find on the web, but that's since been taken down.
posted by sfenders at 7:50 AM on February 12, 2015


Christ. You people. The machinery gets better, more reliable, and more energy efficient. And yes this requires more sophisticated engine management tools.

I swear.. This shit is good. Its just that the cost of it is that you need to develop a new skill set to maintain the tools.


Um, no. That's precisely not the problem. The problem is that you are not supposed to maintain the tools and instead are on hook to the manufacturer for maintenance forever, and that is legally protected.
posted by Artw at 7:54 AM on February 12, 2015 [17 favorites]


Farm Hack is mentioned in the article.
I'm not a farmer, but there's even stuff there for me.
posted by MtDewd at 8:05 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


This shit is good. Its just that the cost of it is that you need to develop a new skill set to maintain the tools.

I wouldn't say so. I'd be concerned about restriction of competition, given the few number of manufacturers, and the possible use of regulatory capture (forex: emissions regs) to close the market. If the big four decide that they will all do proprietary systems and use things like EPA-mandatory locks on emissions as the legal force to protect them, I'd be concerned that the free market in farm equipment has been compromised.

I'd also be concerned that agriculture has been made overly brittle and vulnerable. All of these systems will soon have two-way internet. Without security audits, who knows what nonsense the companies are up to.

The battleground isn't just repairability either. Farmers can't access their own data either, typically. All the data goes back to Deere or New Holland, then they have to pay to access it back. The data they generate with machines they pay for and operate in their own fields.

It's not crazy to ask if a more resilient and competitive market wouldn't be created under a better regulatory regime. Should the law require common standards of access for mechanics? Should data be locally accessible rather than only through a cloud service? Should the farmers be able to control their own farms, or will all farming in NA and Europe be run out of four head offices, as that's where it seems we're headed?
posted by bonehead at 8:06 AM on February 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


Christ. You people. The machinery gets better, more reliable, and more energy efficient. And yes this requires more sophisticated engine management tools.

Nobody is complaining about efficiency. The issue at hand is that manufacturers are taking steps not just to make machinery more efficient (good), but also to lock out any sort of independent ability to service it (bad).

There is a massive difference between "this new machinery is more complex, and requires sophisticated tools to service it", versus "this machinery has been locked down inside and out to enforce a monopoly on service". The former does not require the latter.
posted by tocts at 8:15 AM on February 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


they have to pay to access it back

We don't allow microphone manufacturers to claim sole ownership and copyright of music that happens to be captured by them, for example. I'm not certain why this is ok for combine manufacturers.
posted by bonehead at 8:15 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Already there are only 3-4 competitors in most categories of ag equipment and the suppliers of the environmental gear are actually more consolidated . It is fundamentally not different from cars. In fact in terms of locked down ness its a generation behind.
posted by JPD at 8:18 AM on February 12, 2015


xmattxfx: I thought this comment over on Slashdot, fills in what is missing from this article.
For those of you who haven't read it: the comment basically says "These machines have to be complex to keep farmers from chopping their own limbs off, solving the problem that agricultural work has long topped the list of occupations most likely to result in lost limbs. If a farmer is allowed to tamper with the safety mechanisms, odds are really good the first thing that farmer will do is disable them."

Grew up in the corn belt (northern Missouri). I know more than one farmer missing a limb. I've heard stories of farmers bleeding out in the field, with the remains of their arms stuck in the machinery.

This really isn't as simple as "Evil Big Corporations want to scam the little guy", no matter how much we want it to be. A farmer altering a 27-operation Caterpillar corn harvester (which basically does everything but lable the friggin' cans of creamed corn) opens up a world of increased dangers.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:29 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


It is fundamentally not different from cars.

You seem to be laboring under the mistaken assumption that nobody has any concerns with that. The fact that cars already did this doesn't make it any better, and this is certainly not the first time someone has expressed such feelings.
posted by tocts at 8:31 AM on February 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


Farmers increasingly don't operate the machines anyway, they get a specialized farm services contractor to do much of the work. My brother-in-law is one such, having a stable of a couple of dozen machines from manure spreaders to combines. He does operate as his own mechanic, and has a garage as big as some of the dealerships. He has folks who can safely maintain and repair machines. Increasingly the issues raised in the article are problems for him though.

Are farm services corps going to have to get dealer accreditation to survive? Maybe that's the future. It means though that agriculture will have an increasing fraction that's rentier rights-ownership business rather than capital driven one, limited by how many expensive machines it can maintain. That means prices go up without productivity and that's bad for almost everyone.
posted by bonehead at 8:40 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


bonehead: We don't allow microphone manufacturers to claim sole ownership and copyright of music that happens to be captured by them, for example. I'm not certain why this is ok for combine manufacturers.

I understand what you're getting at here, but I think your analogy is flawed. Microphones are (generally?) designed to be a seamless conveyor of audio - they don't change the sound of the music. A closer analogy would be to effects pedal makers or autotuning software companies claiming control of the audio, requiring an additional payment to sell the now-modified audio back to the musician. Except I imagine farmers can continue farm without obtaining the field data, but they wouldn't get all the benefits from the data from the sensors. But the companies are most likely using this data to refine their software and machinery for future iterations.

I wonder if these companies are selling in China, where creative hacks and blatant copies of proprietary hardware and software are almost the norm, parts that are nearly impossible to get in the US are sold in bulk in a major, well-marked building from hundreds of individual sellers. It'd be interesting to see farmers swapping stories about experiences importing from Alibaba sellers.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:41 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I swear.. This shit is good. Its just that the cost of it is that you need to develop a new skill set to maintain the tools.

Having to know the manufacturer's password or have a special manufacturer-provided key is not a skillset. Especially when cracking the password without the manufacturer's permission can send you to jail.
posted by enn at 8:43 AM on February 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


It is fundamentally not different from cars. In fact in terms of locked down ness its a generation behind.

So perhaps it's still at the point where cars were ten years ago, when the argument was that this new computerize everything approach would be a net benefit, and all you'd need would be to learn the appropriate skills and get a laptop with easily-available software and a standard OBD data cable in order to be able to work with the new technology much like you could with the old. It was plausible, ten or maybe fifteen years ago when we had that debate.
posted by sfenders at 8:48 AM on February 12, 2015


Eh, potatoe/potato. Different mics have different sonic characteristics which produce unique sensor data. Still, however you want to cut it, the sensor manufacturer doens't in that case have sole ownership of the song or the spoken word produced by the microphone. I'm not sure why it's a good thing that the manufacturers do, or at least, get away with acting like they do, in agribusiness though.
posted by bonehead at 8:48 AM on February 12, 2015


Farmers know perfectly well how to (for example) do things like create and run co-ops that could train and employ people to correctly service and support the technology they use. DRM is about squeezing them for more money, not safety.
posted by Poldo at 9:06 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


JPD: " In fact in terms of locked down ness its a generation behind."
This is not precisely true. I'm speaking from my experience in an agricultural entity here: The difference lies in the monolithic ECU in the tractor. It doesn't just control timing/rpms, but the entire drivetrain (accessories/ equipments) and other modules. For instance, some modules of AgCo/ Deutz tractors have a system that will alter RPM and tire pressure automatically based on whether the tractor's on tarmac or soil automatically. This is a useful system for the farmer which saves time and equipment wear. It relies on a network of sensors to determine conditions.

If something goes wrong with this system, it shows a diagnostic error to the operator. But, it doesn't shut the tractor down. So, suppose that instead of just displaying a warning light when a tire pressure sensor or torque sensor couldn't be read, the entire tractor shut down -- no ignition at all -- until an AgCo mechanic came out and entered in an RSA token-like value, then was able to start diagnosing the issue. That's what the situation is like for modern ag equipment.

As daily drivers in modern cars, we don't lose the ability to start our car when the tire pressure sensor is misaligned. That car won't stay disabled even after you realign the sensor. This is the case with the JD tractor in the article and some other manufacturer's products.


bonehead: "Farmers increasingly don't operate the machines anyway, they get a specialized farm services contractor to do much of the work. My brother-in-law is one such, having a stable of a couple of dozen machines from manure spreaders to combines."

You should ask him what he thinks of JD's iTec-Pro designs. Latest suggestion is one farmer acting as a driver for a lead tractor, but operating 2 additional machines in a V wing, then total autonomy. It sounds like something out of Shadowrun.
posted by boo_radley at 9:18 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Poldo: Farmers know perfectly well how to (for example) do things like create and run co-ops that could train and employ people to correctly service and support the technology they use. DRM is about squeezing them for more money, not safety.

Maybe they could, in theory. In reality, I would never trust them to do it. Ag has some of the worst labor practices of any industry. I don't think you can assume a farmer will put a trained operator in control of these very dangerous machines; hell, I don't think you can assume it's an adult.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:20 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


He's thrilled by what the systems can do---he has a set of three combines now that only need one operator, though he doesn't fully trust it (or his operators) yet. He's even more thrilled by the data they collect.

He's really unthrilled by not owning his own data or being able to fix his own machines though.
posted by bonehead at 9:34 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe they could, in theory.

They do already. They've been doing it for more than a generation. They're usually operated as for-profit contractor rather than non-profits though, at least in eastern NA.
posted by bonehead at 9:35 AM on February 12, 2015


I believe that the auto companies are required to sell the proprietary diagnostic equipment and manuals to independent mechanics.

This is a legal requirement only in Massachusetts.
That bill was signed into law on November 26, 2013. Subsequent to bill passage the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, Coalition for Auto Repair Equality, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association for Global Automakers signed a Memorandum of Understanding that is based on the Massachusetts law and which would commit the vehicle manufacturers to meet the requirements of the Massachusetts law in all fifty states.
. . .
In May 2001 NASTF established a website providing reference for all technicians on obtaining service information and tools from manufacturers. In October 2001, carmakers announced their commitment to correct any remaining gaps by January 2003.
The manufacturers voluntarily provide the service information, but before passage of the MA law, they opposed doing so.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:06 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Hey, Kyle Wiens! I (third-handedly) know that guy! He started iFixit in his dorm room at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (and became one of the leaders in a burgeoning tech industry in this Central Coast county that had been mostly agriculture and tourism), and he did so by figuring out how to DIY repairs on Apple iPods that were supposed to be impossible for anyone but Apple technicians. In other words, he beat the DRM and other barriers put up by Apple, but can't do it for John Deere?!? Oh, my. The man is totally outstanding his field, and 'farm tech' left him out standing in a field! (Couldn't resist the pun; also the relevant field may be 'just up the road' from me.) And now I have MORE respect for Apple for NOT making their devices more DIY-proof when they probably could.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:02 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Comparing this machinery to appliances shows such a disconnect. No one loses limbs or poisons themselves when their ipod malfunctions (I'll be proven wrong on this with SLYT proof to the contrary, I'm certain.) The liability is tremendous.
Agriculture is about progress as much as anything, no farmer is interested in your scythes when they have technology that allows them to do more and produce better/most consistently.
Big Farma is about as biased of a title as I can think of. Maybe sometimes a agriculture-removed or possibly hobby-farmer techy needs to eat it while the complexity of large-scale farming glimpses through.
Is accessing the information truly an issue when it is valuable and probably protected information? Lack of ability to hack is some kind of silicone tears.
posted by lawliet at 1:40 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


> You seem to be laboring under the mistaken assumption that nobody has any
> concerns with that. The fact that cars already did this doesn't make it any
> better, and this is certainly not the first time someone has expressed such
> feelings.

I do not have a car any more (IDNHAC goes right in there with IDNHATV) but the last one I did have was a 1978 Jeep CJ5 which I kept and fixed and drove for nearly 30 years for exactly this reason. Well, also becase they're cheap and fun. The only electronic thing on it was a black ignition brick of which I had two (2) spares, both tested in the vehicle. I stored them in a homebuilt grounded Faraday cage. EMP, I fear thee not. (If I take a direct nuclear hit here in upper middle Georgia I've got bigger problems than a nonfunctional Jeep, and so do we all.)
posted by jfuller at 2:10 PM on February 12, 2015


I don't think you can assume a farmer will put a trained operator in control of these very dangerous machines; hell, I don't think you can assume it's an adult.

This is the kind of thing that actually inclines me to see all the handwaving about safety concerns being the motivation for the anti-circumvention measures as bullshit. Is there any kind of safety mechanism in these machines that would prevent some twelve-year-old from running down a family pet and/or a member of the family with them?

If not, I have trouble taking seriously the explanation that "turning the machine you own on by yourself after you've realigned a sensor" as described in the article needs to be redefined as a form of "hacking" with an RSA token locking out the ignition, and the device can't simply re-run the same test for the sensor conditions that caused it to shut down in the first place, for some handwavy supposed liability reasons.

I mean I'm just an unfrozen caveman agriculture-removed techy and all that, and these complexities of the ag industry frighten and confuse me, but I have trouble seeing why a non-dealer technician would need a priest-like franchise-licensed authority to intercede on her behalf and interpret the mysterious ways the tractor moves in, in that situation. It seems a bit contradictory to claim both that all the information about how the machine actually works needs to be concealed, and also that safety risks stemming from anyone other than ordained technicians having insufficient understanding of how everything works are the overriding concern here that leave the vendors' hands tied.
posted by XMLicious at 3:15 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


In planting or harvesting season, missing a day or 2 of use is a huge deal. I'd want the vendor to have parts widely available.
posted by theora55 at 3:30 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Okay, a little late to the game here, but here's the deal:
I am a Canadian farmer and I'm telling you that this DRM stuff on farm equipment SUCKS ASS for pretty much all the farmers except the few largest guys in the neighbourhood.
If you're doing well (as most guys have in the last 7 years), you've upgraded your combine, sprayer, and tractors and are on 3-year lease programs. But every year I watch as my neighbours' brand new machines are parked in the fields during critical field op days while they wait for the dealers to make several service visits BECAUSE THE ENTIRE TRACTOR WILL NOT RUN IF ONE BLOODY SENSOR IS BORKED. As others have said upthread, even 2 days of downtime during seeding can have huge financial implications for the year. Furthermore, dealers are having a harder time finding service techs who have sufficient experience and training to do both the mechanical repairs and the diagnostic tests and updates on the equipment, so it might take the dealer 3 visits to get the (brand-new) machine running again, compared to one visit back in the days when the tractors were purely mechanical.
If you're like our farm, you have a motley collection of used equipment purchased at auction, and if you call the dealer for a service call during seeding or harvest, they usually tell you they wouldn't be out for a week and a half (their way of saying "F Off"). My husband is pretty handy mechanically, and has the added benefit of being a software engineer, so he can hack his way through a lot of our breakdowns. But he's the only software engineer/farmer I know, so anyone else who has these problems is often stuck desperately seeking to purchase another machine during harvest ($$$$$) or trying to line up custom help (which is not as common as a poster upthread mentioned, and is also $$$$).
I'll tell you, everyone else in the neighbourhood is driving $400,000 2014 model tractors around, and we're chugging along in our 1979 model ... partially because we can't afford to upgrade, but mostly because we watch our neighbours sidelined by stupid DRM software bugs and faulty sensors. If an old tractor has a problem? You buy the part, fix it and move on. Parts and manuals are all readily available, and the only software on that thing is the crap my husband installed. It's like open source farming versus Microsoft or Apple farming, I guess.
posted by bluebelle at 7:14 PM on February 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


I live in a rural area which is being subsumed by the nearest big city. But there are still ranches and farms that change hands. In every case I've seen lately, legacy tractors are part of the sale. Nobody wants these black box tractors for small farms.
posted by dejah420 at 4:44 AM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


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