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March 22, 2017 5:52 AM   Subscribe

Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Ukrainian Firmware - A dive into the thriving black market of John Deere tractor hacking.
posted by timshel (74 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
 
Holy shit, everything about this post is unbelievable.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:56 AM on March 22 [7 favorites]


Just so you know I was not being hyperbolic, here is a quote from the article:

Kluthe, for example, uses pig manure to power his tractor, which requires engine modifications that would likely violate John Deere's terms of service on newer machines.

"I take the hog waste and run it through an anaerobic digester and I've learned to compress the methane," he said. "I run an 80 percent methane in my Chevy Diesel Pickup and I run 90 percent methane in my tractor. And they both purr. I take a lot of pride in working on my equipment."

posted by Literaryhero at 6:00 AM on March 22 [56 favorites]


Wired has also been doing some great articles on this mess.

They're from a few years ago, but very much relevant.
posted by Twain Device at 6:04 AM on March 22 [6 favorites]


Honestly I kind of see both sides of the argument.

Some of these pieces of Farm Equipment are in the 250k-500k price range. As a manufacturer the presence of black market and grey market components puts the overall value proposition of the equipment into question. It also means that your authorized technicians aren't going to know what sort of sketchy components they might have to deal with when the Dealership finally gets called in to fix something that can't easily be repaired by the unauthorized technicians.

On the other side I strongly disagree with Deere using their market position to make it extremely expensive to do even simple repairs.

It seems like Deere could make it where more of the routine repairs don't require authorization and make it easier for third-party repair technicians to purchase software and authorized parts.
posted by vuron at 6:19 AM on March 22 [6 favorites]


Fascinating, thanks.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:21 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


If they don't like the terms of sale from Deere, maybe they shouldn't buy stuff from Deere.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:22 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


If they don't like the terms of sale from Deere, maybe they shouldn't buy stuff from Deere.

Maybe Deere (and many, many other companies) shouldn't be trying to redefine "sale" in this manner.
posted by Etrigan at 6:25 AM on March 22 [109 favorites]


It does make you wonder if a competitor that just sold manual tractors rather than licensing black box farm equipment would succeed against them.
posted by Artw at 6:29 AM on March 22 [7 favorites]


The right-to-repair thread from the other week brought this up. Apparently the Indian manufacturer Mahindra is making huge headways in the US doing just that, selling manual tractors.

The issue is that you've got incredible brand loyalty among so many of these farmers. Some family farms have probably been running Deere equipment for 150 years, and it's very hard for them to switch.
posted by hwyengr at 6:36 AM on March 22 [15 favorites]


If they don't like the terms of sale from Deere, maybe they shouldn't buy stuff from Deere.

Or maybe they should buy it and then violate the terms of sale, because following the terms of sale from a tractor company is not an ethical imperative.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:36 AM on March 22 [113 favorites]


Fucking rent seeking. "Trust the free market" my ass. Car/auto companies are the absolute worst about this.
posted by frecklefaerie at 6:39 AM on March 22 [35 favorites]


My general understanding is that most of the the modern large tractors are either at or near the point of being self driving. Lots of the functionality including the end turns are more or less automatically handled by the tractor with way more precision than most tractor operators can perform the task. It's not full autonomy although that's pretty much a given in the not so distant future but a form of supervised autonomy where the operator is largely placed in a monitoring role.

Also keep in mind that these are not the old school tractors that most people envision when we talk about farm tractors. You know the manual ones that can operate for decades as long as the farmer is will to take them apart every so often.
posted by vuron at 6:39 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]


It does make you wonder if a competitor that just sold manual tractors rather than licensing black box farm equipment would succeed against them.

It would take a massive capital investment to compete. John Deere's total assets are in excess of $58 billion-with-a-b. As hwyengr notes, Mahindra is making inroads, and their assets are in excess of $9 billion, and they sell significantly less advanced equipment.

Of course, part of the reason that Deere does this is that they make money on the repairs too, which allows them to charge less for the tractor up front*, so a competitor who doesn't have $130-an-hour repairs in their business model is going to have to charge more for the tractor.

* -- I have no idea whether Deere does charge less for this reason, but if Mahindra or someone starts putting out comparable right-to-repair models, look for Deere up-front prices to drop while repair rates rise.
posted by Etrigan at 6:44 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


I'm always torn about this particular aspect of repair in a world where hardware and software are so tightly interconnected, where would you draw the line? Is there a tractor manufacturer that is more open? Why don't farmers buy from them?

Say I buy an autonomous car in ten years (some of these tractors are happy to drive themselves around even now), and I replace one of the cameras/sensors for an ebay purchased unofficial replacement. A year later at dusk my car swerves and crashes hurting a bystander and myself.

Who is at fault? Me for not validating the part, the part manufacturer for delivering a sub-par replacement, the car manufacturer for letting the car start after what /they/ would like to deem a warranty voiding event, or the software vendor for not dealing with slightly-out-of-spec sensor data?

If I flip out an oxygen sensor to save myself $400 compared to the Deere-certified and the next year my engine dies-- can Deere saying 'too bad, so sad, you did an aftermarket change we think that could have been the cause' and my insurance company says the same, so I'm on the hook for a whole new tractor?
posted by Static Vagabond at 6:49 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]


My first thought upon reading this was Stuxnet. At what percentage of 'infected' equipment would a geo-coordinated attack have a significant impact on final food production?

Also, this sounds a lot like the discussions that come up with regards to building systems such as digital controls, elevators, fire alarm systems, etc. Those markets generally have a few more players, but the monopoly on support service is a definite thing. I have yet to hear of building owners downloading patches from sketchy foreign sources.
posted by meinvt at 6:55 AM on March 22 [7 favorites]


Speaking of manual tractors, I'm interested to see how the Oggún does. It's an open system single row tractor based on the Allis-Chalmers G, designed to be low cost, and easy to modify or repair with off the shelf parts. Originally designed for Cuban farmers as a blockade-proof tractor, it's also marketed to small farms in the US and elsewhere.
posted by zamboni at 6:55 AM on March 22 [22 favorites]


The idea of a EULA for the sale of a physical object is fairly revolting. As is the idea that they could remotely brick, of all things, a tractor. The fact that these are computerized and running firmware/software muddies those waters, but smells like a dominant market player forcing lock-in because they can.

Also, if I've paid you a quarter mil or more for something, my ethical obligations to you pretty much end with the money being legitimate, legally obtained, and paid on time.

My general understanding is that most of the the modern large tractors are either at or near the point of being self driving. Lots of the functionality including the end turns are more or less automatically handled by the tractor with way more precision than most tractor operators can perform the task.

True. That's how they get those rows so perfectly straight and parallel. I've heard farmers tell stories of having to round people up to fish one out of a ditch because the driver fell asleep. They aren't fully autonomous.

If I flip out an oxygen sensor to save myself $400 compared to the Deere-certified and the next year my engine dies-- can Deere saying 'too bad, so sad, you did an aftermarket change we think that could have been the cause' and my insurance company says the same, so I'm on the hook for a whole new tractor?

I think they're well within their rights to set the warranty terms, yeah. That's a far more palatable solution than "we're locking this down so you can't perform normal repairs, you have to agree that you'll never sue us even if our tractors hurt your livelihood, but we can sue you or brick your tractor if we feel you deserve it."
posted by middleclasstool at 6:58 AM on March 22 [21 favorites]


Say I buy an autonomous car in ten years (some of these tractors are happy to drive themselves around even now), and I replace one of the cameras/sensors for an ebay purchased unofficial replacement. A year later at dusk my car swerves and crashes hurting a bystander and myself.

Who is at fault?


There must be law that covers this aspect already. What happens if your human-driven car kills somebody because of a substandard owner-replaced breakpad or tire? The fact that part of the tractor system is implemented in software can't make the situation that different - there might be an issue of liability for the manufacturer if the software can detect you using bad parts and does nothing, but that must be balanced against the manufacturer disingenuously claiming that *anything* other than their parts is substandard.
posted by Dr Dracator at 7:03 AM on March 22 [5 favorites]


Who is at fault? Me for not validating the part, the part manufacturer for delivering a sub-par replacement, the car manufacturer for letting the car start after what /they/ would like to deem a warranty voiding event, or the software vendor for not dealing with slightly-out-of-spec sensor data?

Arguably, one of the things you're buying with an authorised part is a third-manufacturer quality and safety assurance strong enough to confer legal liability for any failures onto the manufacturer. Without that, you're at fault, unless there were some very strong and explicit guarantees on your eBay listing, sufficient for said seller or third-party manufacturer to take on liability.

I'm all for the right to repair as a general rule, but there are damn good reasons not to encourage people to just go digging in the guts of autonomous cars.
posted by Dysk at 7:03 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]


If they don't like the terms of sale from Deere, maybe they shouldn't buy stuff from Deere.

This position isn't feasible in quasi-monopoly markets.
posted by mhoye at 7:07 AM on March 22 [20 favorites]


Suprised Daewoo isn't on this.
posted by Artw at 7:08 AM on March 22


The right way is probably somewhere in the middle, but Deere's stance doesn't seem completely indefensible. Reputation is huge, and you see people all the time making sub-standard substitutions and mis-attributing blame.

The classic example is people rating recipes poorly because they made a substitution and it didn't come out well. People call IKEA crap because they don't know how to put it together. So I can totally understand John Deere, Apple, and car manufacturers wanting to have some control over repairs. If people are using substandard parts, and doing a hack job of a repair, people will still blame the manufacturer, not their choice to use a cheap part.

Doesn't mean that people shouldn't be able to make that mistake, but I totally understand why companies want that after-purchase control. Especially when computers are involved, and hacking is a concern.
posted by explosion at 7:09 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


This position isn't feasible in quasi-monopoly markets.

Kubota and Mahindra exist.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:12 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


Kubota and Mahindra exist.

One possible hitch for many farmers, combines and the like are the sort of thing you kind of need to buy nearby, so geographic monopolies exist in a very important way.

I've lived all my life on farms, in farming towns, basically just only around farming areas and I had literally never heard of those two companies until I read this thread. It's not like you just go online and buy a combine, not unless you are a fabulously wealthy farmer.
posted by neonrev at 7:18 AM on March 22 [22 favorites]


I hear a lot about Deere doing this, but are the other huge brands like International doing it too?
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:24 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


IH was notorious for the amount of dealer only parts on there machinery, I haven't looked into buying one for years because of this. The dealer is to far away to go get parts when I need to be working.
posted by ridgerunner at 7:38 AM on March 22


Honestly I kind of see both sides of the argument.

Some of these pieces of Farm Equipment are in the 250k-500k price range. As a manufacturer the presence of black market and grey market components puts the overall value proposition of the equipment into question. It also means that your authorized technicians aren't going to know what sort of sketchy components they might have to deal with when the Dealership finally gets called in to fix something that can't easily be repaired by the unauthorized technicians.


None of those evoke even the slightest bit of sympathy for Deere in me. It's basically they can make more of a profit? So what? I understand why they want that but it is at others expense and they shouldn't do it.

And of course if the "difficulty of future repairs" was the primary motivation, though could do things like having the modifications void warranties, freely distributing manuals on line so more repairs follow Deere guidelines, encouraging an open market in authorized parts, and so on. They are trying to establish a monopoly so they can charge more. That is all.

Or maybe they should buy it and then violate the terms of sale, because following the terms of sale from a tractor company is not an ethical imperative.

Most ethical systems have "honor your word when you voluntarily give it" as some sort of imperative. It's why arguments against this sort of thing usually rely things like abuse of market power or the asymmetry between the parties.

One reason I strongly support right of repair laws. People shouldn't need to lie when they buy a tractor. Regulation should keep people from being in that situation.
posted by mark k at 7:48 AM on March 22 [14 favorites]


I live in tractor country, and apart from seeing VERY old machinery on the highway, often, Kubota and Mahindra are omnipresent even on the large rowcropping operations (used for clearing brush or small work that the larger JD equipment wouldn't be risked on). They are popular with hobby farmers or smallholdings and there are dealerships nearby for repairs.

However, John Deere still has the lock on the large rowcropping operations, and I'm not even sure Kubota makes equipment of the size used on those multi-hundred acre fields, let alone with the autonomous driving and GPS capabilities. There is a John Deere dealership in every town of 2000 or more around here and they have cornered the market on zero-turn mowers and giant combines, for whatever reason. A lot of farmers make so little profit that the leasing options available on these $500,000 tractors that promise to save them the salaries of at least two farm workers is probably pretty enticing, repair issues be damned.

For every giant soy conglomerate, however, there are probably 10-30 small beef operations and market farms out here, and those use the manual tractors (aging Fords, which hold their resale value tremendously, Mahindra, Kubota).
posted by annathea at 7:53 AM on March 22 [14 favorites]


It's interesting that we've been in this situation more or less with many forms of consumer electronics for many years now, but most people have rolled their eyes at the hobbyists/purists who insist that they should have the right to modify and repair their own, say, television. When it's farmers and tractors though, suddenly people sit up and take notice.

Which is not at all to suggest that the issue with the tractors isn't a big deal. It's huge, especially considering the ticket price on a tractor, and I'm firmly behind the right-to-repair folks. I just feel like nothing about this article is in the least new or surprising to anyone who has done any hobbyist tinkering on personal electronics in the last decade or so.
posted by 256 at 8:01 AM on March 22 [14 favorites]


Related
posted by aspersioncast at 8:02 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


If they don't like the terms of sale from Deere, maybe they shouldn't buy stuff from Deere.

Or maybe they should buy it and then violate the terms of sale, because following the terms of sale from a tractor company is not an ethical imperative.


As a Linux user from 1998, I say: "Welcome, Brothers!" Also, once the middleman becomes aware of his long-overdue demise, he will fight tooth and nail: 'Just don't buy $whateverbrand!' will not be possible, because every brand that's not $whateverbrand will be litigated, legislated, liquidated or leaned on, or all at the same time, by the current market oligopolites, into market irrelevance. Just ask MicroSoft: every dirty trick will be used to keep the market not only dependent, but utterly so. Unlike experience with fuckery by MicroSoft, though, this isn't an emerging market of office productivity programs: this is our fucking food supply. The stakes are somewhat higher.
posted by eclectist at 8:06 AM on March 22 [13 favorites]


When it's farmers and tractors though, suddenly people sit up and take notice.

I will admit that my comments here were mostly motivated by the reverse -- if you're going to keep voting for people and policies that are all blah-blah-free-market-blah, then eat that dog food with the rest of us and don't go whining to the government you hate to save you yet-fucking-again.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:19 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]



Which is not at all to suggest that the issue with the tractors isn't a big deal. It's huge, especially considering the ticket price on a tractor, and I'm firmly behind the right-to-repair folks. I just feel like nothing about this article is in the least new or surprising to anyone who has done any hobbyist tinkering on personal electronics in the last decade or so.
posted by 256 at 8:01 AM on March 22 [1 favorite +] [!]


My livelihood doesn't depend on any of the devices I tinker with.
posted by ocschwar at 8:22 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]


My livelihood doesn't depend on any of the devices I tinker with.

That's certainly true. As is the point that messing with farmers affects everyone's food supply. I mean, I get why this is a bigger deal than having to accept a draconian EULA before you can use your PS4. I framed my first post poorly by implying that John Deere doing this is no more or less concerning than Sony doing it. My main point is that there are a lot of people who have been loudly saying for decades now that it's a big problem when sales agreements stop transferring actual ownership of the item in question.
posted by 256 at 8:29 AM on March 22 [6 favorites]


My grandfather would have growled deep agreement - he was a life long International Harvester man, not a single green (colored) tractor on his farm.
posted by sammyo at 8:32 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]


Holy shit, everything about this post is unbelievable.

Maybe the most unbelievable being Deere's hubris - I mean, at least 50% of the job description of being a farmer is problem solving under adverse conditions with limited resources, with the implacable forces of nature as your adversary. They think some DRM is going to stop these guys?
posted by ryanshepard at 8:33 AM on March 22 [36 favorites]


These guys problem is they aren't big enough, Deere's best customers control several multi-square mile farms spread out, maybe in 2 or 3 different states. They've got so much leverage with their rep that s/he will be all over the local dealer to get a good tech to down machinery, now. They don't have a consolidated repair/maintainence barn so a dealer contract for that is a good deal.

All that data Deere collects per x square yards on fuel use, seed rate, fertilizer and herbicide and pesticide application rates over all their fields adds up to huge files that needs big iron to reduce to useable reports, why wouldn't they use Deere for that, they've already got the data and the IT department. If the cost of the reports is spread out over 80 square miles of crops it's a good deal.

If your big enough to exploit Deere's services they can provide a marketable advantage.

Even the Russian's are trying to crack the US market for equipment usable by smaller farmers but reliability and parts availability during planting and harvest seasons aren't there yet. Kobota is making a big push for the dinky sized equipment market.
posted by ridgerunner at 8:37 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]


My grandfather would have growled deep agreement - he was a life long International Harvester man

Mine too. Right down to the Cub Cadet riding mower for the yard.
posted by hwyengr at 8:57 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]


There needs to be a better delineation between what's a sale and what's a lease or rental. If you (or anyone) can legally service it (after warranty is over)... then you truly own it. Anything else isn't really a sale.

I would be more sympathetic to JD if they were offering better support to the farmers - like authorizing more independent mechanics to work on the stuff. That wait and the $400 tab just for an "authorized" JD tech to do some voodoo with a USB fob is bullshit.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:59 AM on March 22 [9 favorites]


this is our fucking food supply

You can read the EULA to plant seed here:
Growers wishing to purchase or plant seed with Monsanto technologies are required to have a current Monsanto Technology/Stewardship Agreement (MTSA) -- version 2010 or later. Monsanto's proprietary traits are offered in more than 200 different brands via an authorized distribution network, enabling farmers to maximize yield potential on their farm.

And here's a scary info graphic of how much control chemical corps have over seeds. It's a little out dated, there have been some more patent cross license and r&d agreements after it was published.
posted by ridgerunner at 9:02 AM on March 22 [7 favorites]


This was an interesting comment from the Hacker News side of the world:

Article: "I take the hog waste and run it through an anaerobic digester and I've learned to compress the methane," he said. "I run an 80 percent methane in my Chevy Diesel Pickup and I run 90 percent methane in my tractor. And they both purr. I take a lot of pride in working on my equipment."

vvanders@HN: "There's also a chance that this violates EPA laws around Tier IV emissions. Totally sympathize with not being able to repair existing equipment but I think it's important to separate it from things that can have emission implications (much in the same way you can't go dumping tons of RF everywhere over protected spectrum on your router). That said I wonder if Case IH/Claas/etc has similar agreements."

And speaking of Monsanto, keep your eye on them. They've quietly been buying up agtech companies and blanketing them under their wholly-owned subsidiary The Climate Corporation. God that sounds all silicon-valley-happy doesn't it?
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:08 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]


My livelihood doesn't depend on any of the devices I tinker with.

How nice for you. But there are many people whose livelihoods do depend on the computers and phones and software they tinker with. It's not a coincidence that they are many of the same people who have been fighting against abusive licensing, DRM, etc., etc., for years and years. They've often been dismissed as zealots by people who earn their livings in other ways. But as we're seeing here with farm equipment, as software and its concomitant business models spread to more and more parts of our lives, more people are going to wake up and realize that the tools of their trades—whatever they are—can no longer be bought but only rented from monopolist multinationals.
posted by enn at 9:11 AM on March 22 [16 favorites]


You can read the EULA to plant seed here:
Growers wishing to purchase or plant seed with Monsanto technologies are required to have a current Monsanto Technology/Stewardship Agreement (MTSA) -- version 2010 or later. Monsanto's proprietary traits are offered in more than 200 different brands via an authorized distribution network, enabling farmers to maximize yield potential on their farm.

And here's a scary info graphic of how much control chemical corps have over seeds. It's a little out dated, there have been some more patent cross license and r&d agreements after it was published.


Farmers don't save seeds anymore not because of Monsanto. It's because saving seed is a giant pain in the ass. You have to clean the seed, you have to deal with seeds being different sized in your equipment, you might not even get the plants you want in the next generation. Some of the plants you're dealing with may also be hybrids and be sterile.

The farmers are paying for convenience just like any other business owner. They get a customized, known quality product that they can pick up and use. You don't reuse the seed and cross your fingers that it doesn't go tits up the next season. You buy your seed and know exactly what you're getting. All you have to do is make the margins work and you eliminate a fair amount of risk in your business.
posted by Talez at 9:15 AM on March 22 [6 favorites]


When it's farmers and tractors though, suddenly people sit up and take notice.

Suddenly? Are you not aware of the Right to Repair initiatives relating to automobiles?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:19 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]


Farmers don't save seeds anymore not because of Monsanto.

Large farmers would be stupid to, especially like the guy in the south end of this county that increased his yield of soybeans from 40 bushels per acre to 160!

Dinky assed farmers like me that plant Red Cobed White Corn for a specialty market sure do. And it was sure as shit was a Monsanro rep that scared our local custom seed cleaner out of business. Its amazing how a 70 year old seed cleaner became a "device to circumvent Monsanto's intellectual property rights" and that's a lawsuit they've already won in this state.

I've got seed stock in a freezer, but won't be planting until I can build a cleaner big enough for more than a few bushels.
posted by ridgerunner at 9:45 AM on March 22 [40 favorites]


I look forward to a future in which farmers get automated C&Ds from their seeders when they get a worm that false-positives Monsanto copyright infringements.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:48 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]


Someone on /r/farming talking about why they use JD tractors despite this
posted by exogenous at 9:51 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


Someone on /r/farming talking about why they use JD tractors despite this

That was an interesting and rational explanation... basically, an economic argument: it's currently cost-effective for them to use JD equipment, EULA and all.

Problem is...this is only going to entrench JD's monopoly in the 'big'-machine end of that market. It will become increasingly hard for other companies to compete with JD, and at that point they can impose any terms and charge whatever they want. Maybe that's where we are already. So... is it in our best interests that they have this monopoly?
posted by Artful Codger at 10:05 AM on March 22 [5 favorites]


Farmers don't save seeds anymore not because of Monsanto. It's because saving seed is a giant pain in the ass.

And also if you're the neighbor of a farmer that uses Monsanto seed (spoiler, lots and lots do) and you do want to save save your non-Monsanto seed then get ready to fight a helluva legal battle against a titan that doesn't often lose.

Not to mention the completely valid points that ridgerunner mentions mentions as well.

Monsanto, and in this case Deere, protect profits first and everything else second. Never forget that.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:39 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that's the funny thing about monopolies...it's always better to have them around (while they're still undercutting the competition) until suddenly it isn't (after they're done driving out the competition).
posted by sexyrobot at 11:44 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


It does make you wonder if a competitor that just sold manual tractors rather than licensing black box farm equipment would succeed against them. . . . It would take a massive capital investment to compete.

In the early 1980s, as the US de-industrialized -- now that we have all grown rich taking in each others washing, it can be difficult to recall those dark days -- I had a temp job helping to decommission and dismantle a former heavy truck manufacturing plant. This plant had made OTR semis, heavy farm equipment, etc. for a company with roots going back to the 19th century. They went bankrupt and their assets were bought out by an European (surprisingly, not a Japanese) firm, and were liquidated.

Summa yew kids like to explore abandoned shopping malls -- this was an abandoned truck factory, including the HQ and engineering offices.

An interesting phenomenon to note in passing: as we dollied dozens of locked filing cabinets out to the trucks, I could not help but notice the calendars. Calendars on the walls and desks in nearly every office recorded the last month or even the last day that that specific office was last in use. Predictably, the higher up the buildings you went, and the closer you got to the corner office, the later the dates on the frozen calendars turned out to be. And yet, in the end, no one was spared.

There are many reasons a heavy equipment company might go out of business in the 1980s, but in this case I was informed in very clear language that what killed this company was a lack of diesel engine patents of their own. They were forced by circumstances to essentially license (and pay for) engine technology controlled by their competitors. That engineering dept had been working full steam to the end to develop non-infringing technologies of their own, and could not manage it.
 
posted by Herodios at 12:48 PM on March 22 [18 favorites]


Who is at fault? . . .
There must be law that covers this aspect already . . .
EULA . . .


A different angle, but I just happen to have this report on my desk:

Insuring The Driverless World
Who pays when there's a crash?

As the technology for fully autonomous automobiles moves closer . . . auto insurers are pondering how to adapt to a world where a computer operating system could be liable for an accident rather than a person.

State and federal authorities are . . . proposing guidelines or regulations governing self-driving autos.

Automakers say they will take full responsibility for their self-driving cars . . . and all are expected to do so eventually.

The result could be product liability-like coverage supplanting personal liability policies, experts say.

But the burden of this commitment would be factored into vehicle purchase prices, which will rise to well above today’s mass-market levels.
[. . . ]
Cars are still going to need insurance because of damage from falling trees or vandalism. But [as cars become increasingly autonomous] . . . insurance will need to evolve and become much more product liability-like . . .
[. . . ]
Over time, the operating systems, hardware, sensors and LiDAR ultimately will become responsible for incidents where they are at fault and in control of the vehicle. . . .

However, we actually think that claims become easier with self-driving cars . .. thanks to all the sensors and data they incorporate that can [record] what happened when an accident occurred.
posted by Herodios at 12:59 PM on March 22


Reporting from the northern steppes of North Dakota...

My family were Farmers Union renegades so there were at least four little Coop tractors around the place, plus a Cockshutt (a popular name with us kids). By the time I started doing summer fallow we got our first couple Minneapolis Molines with cabs (but not reliable cooling systems but the radios worked!). Then came a 4x4 Versatile. That was a game changer in getting shit done. Then another Versatile. My cousin still uses that one as a backup to a newer Versatile. The only Deere is a twenty-year old 2WD model with a PTO in back and a lift in the front. Ain't no proprietary software on that thing.

There's some big John Deere dealers out here on the prairie, massive yards with rows and rows of shiny green equipment. But there's Case IH and Caterpillar to keep them competitive. We're only an hour from Canada and depending on the strength of the dollar a Versatile can be a bargain. We have some big farms but this state forbids corporate farming, despite the fervent wishes of our GOP legislature. So the big corporate operations that like the JD software just don't exist. If it breaks, in most cases folks fix it themselves.

I keep thinking about buying either a little tractor or a Bobcat next time we're really flush. My neighbor has a little Case that's a freaking workhorse but damn, a Bobcat just looks FUN. I just know for sure it won't be a goddamn John Deere.
posted by Ber at 1:07 PM on March 22 [11 favorites]


Farmers don't save seeds anymore not because of Monsanto.

Aren't hybrids one of the reasons why farmers don't save seeds? They don't breed true, but do have a uniformity and hybrid vigor which makes them desirable. The popularity of commercial hybrid seed can't be blamed on Monsanto and its GM efforts, but, rather, date back to the 1920s and Pioneer Hi-Bred which was founded by Henry Wallace (the later Roosevelt VP and leftist candidate for president) .
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 1:08 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


Holy shit, this is amazing stuff. "The sky above the fields was a brilliant blue: the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel."
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 1:30 PM on March 22 [6 favorites]


Aren't hybrids one of the reasons why farmers don't save seeds? They don't breed true, but do have a uniformity and hybrid vigor which makes them desirable. The popularity of commercial hybrid seed can't be blamed on Monsanto and its GM efforts, but, rather, date back to the 1920s and Pioneer Hi-Bred which was founded by Henry Wallace (the later Roosevelt VP and leftist candidate for president) .

Pretty much.
posted by Talez at 1:42 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


So the big corporate operations that like the JD software just don't exist. If it breaks, in most cases folks fix it themselves.


Yeah, very similar conditions down in South Dakota as well. A couple of the cities have a real JD office in them, but besides that it's all pretty isolated service centers near small towns and they don't seem to sell the newest, fanciest stuff, there's simply no money for a market for it. I don't think we've ever acquired a tractor or combine 'new' that wasn't at least 8 years old, and our work horse do-all tractor is a IH farm-hand from I think 1957? Still runs just fine, even with some of the exhaust system patched up with a literal tin can. I honestly don't think that thing has a single original part on it besides the chassis. This same sort of thing holds true for all of our neighbors and all the other farms I've ever spent any time near. Old shit, repaired over and over again, both for the ease of getting it running again and for the cost.

Man, to think about what my grandpa would have done if getting his tractor fixed meant waiting for a tech to drive out instead of grabbing his tool box and loosening what's stuck and sticking down what's loose.



On Monsanto and seed corn, while it's true that market conditions and advancements in yield are reasons farmers have been switching, it's important to remember that Monsanto et al have been doing their best to create those market conditions with some pretty shady shit. Ridgerunner's story about their seed cleaner sounds pretty familiar to what happened to our former locally owned seed processing place, some complicated legal battle that they were not prepared to fight, let alone win over something small. Between that, buy-outs and just the normal ways monopolies push out smaller competitors it's very difficult to run anything independently anymore. I can make a long and boring argument about how increasing crop yields in the US actually reduces public health, is not actually necessary to secure our food safety and works to entrench toxic elements of our economy but this is already a thread with enough derails.
posted by neonrev at 1:47 PM on March 22 [9 favorites]


... Right. I am in fact living in a William Gibson novel, and both that article and this thread have confirmed it.
posted by strixus at 2:49 PM on March 22


Look, this is important for the future of the farming industry. And people drawing correlations with self-driving cars are not off the mark either.

But this is the test ground for everything. Most importantly, the devices that are going to be implanted into your body. Right now, there are people walking around with devices implanted in them who's creating companies have gone out of business. Of course they have hacked them to try and figure out how to keep using them.

But doing so violates the DMCA. As we move forward the argument isn't going to be "who owns my tractor", but "who owns me?"
posted by lumpenprole at 4:21 PM on March 22 [5 favorites]


As my family tells it, the machines are all so damn expensive that they are bought with credit. Before the machine is paid off, it's traded in and the debt cycle starts anew.

And as for savings seeds, feel free not to -- just buy your seed corn from my cousins, please!
posted by wenestvedt at 5:24 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


A whole thread about tractors and no one mentioned Massey-Ferguson. They don't get quite as large as the top tier JD tractors, but they're certainly a player in row cropping. (also, one of our little town tractor dealers sells Mahindra, if anyone's keeping score)

--

Insuring The Driverless World -- Who pays when there's a crash?

I imagine the vast majority of driverless cars won't be privately owned; but used on-demand (Uber/Lyft). Most people will happily trade ownership for not needing to worry about insurance and maintenance costs, as long as the car comes whenever they want to go somewhere. Pretty much if it gets them to work and back on time, it's a done deal.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 5:32 PM on March 22


Some of these pieces of Farm Equipment are in the 250k-500k price range. As a manufacturer the presence of black market and grey market components puts the overall value proposition of the equipment into question.
As someone who not uncommonly buys pieces of lab equipment in the same price range, I'd be livid if the manufacturer weren't willing to give me the root password on the attached computer, mechanical CAD models, circuit diagrams, and the full set of service documentation for their hardware. There's no grey market for the stuff we buy, so barely-trained grad students machine custom parts from scrap metal. Sometimes they screw up, and when they do we either fix it ourselves or pay someone to fix it. That's part of the understood agreement of what it means to "buy" a thing.

The idea that industrial equipment sales need to be run like a skeezy car leasing arrangement sounds nuts to me. No vendor who tried to pull that sort of thing in our field would ever get my business again.

But, perhaps there's some minor good that will come from all those farm kids taking up hardware hacking.
posted by eotvos at 6:10 PM on March 22 [7 favorites]


Reading all of this reminds me of my uncle Jerry, who bought the family farm from my grandpa in 1963 or so. His newest, biggest tractor was a 1956 John Deere. He still owned the Ford 9N that killed my Uncle Sylvester, even. It was a useful piece of equipment, after all.

Unlike my Dad's cousins, Uncle Jerry never went for the new methods or new equipment. He always said, "If it was good enough for my dad, it's good enough for me." He farmed 180 acres and raised two kids that way. His wife, my aunt, still lives out on the farm, even though she's in her mid-80s.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 7:56 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


just buy your seed corn from my cousins, please!
posted by wenestvedt


Dude! Your great uncle (?) probably saved Grandpa's farm once in the 60s. We had a cold wet spring and had a dire need for a faster maturing corn than we could get locally. Enestvedt Seeds scraped up enough for us to replant most of our fields.

Its pretty awesome your cousins still own the original homestead too.
posted by ridgerunner at 8:41 PM on March 22 [16 favorites]


"I just feel like nothing about this article is in the least new or surprising to anyone who has done any hobbyist tinkering on personal electronics in the last decade or so."

Or anyone who lives in farm country!

"Farmers don't save seeds anymore not because of Monsanto. It's because saving seed is a giant pain in the ass. "

American farmers. Canadian farmers. But Indian farmers? They would like to not be beholden to Monsanto, thanks. Monsanto's seed patents are sort-of theoretically offensive to first-world farmers, but they're murderous to third-world farmers.

"There's some big John Deere dealers out here on the prairie, massive yards with rows and rows of shiny green equipment. But there's Case IH and Caterpillar to keep them competitive."

Cat will not save you. Cat has spent the last ten years working to be the most competitive industrial corporation of 1962; its industrial strategy is 100% fucked up; and now Cat is getting fucked because its tax-cheat strategies. But really you just have to go to the brand-new, state-of-the-art Cat visitors' center, where you will learn that Cat is super-mobilized to win the business cycle in 1962 and apparently has not heard of 2017. Glen Barton (a Cat lifer who died) was reasonably cool for a dude who didn't believe women could be executives; Doug Oberhelman was a fucking nightmare of legal liability and atavistic strategy and I would not be surprised if he went to jail over the tax stuff; Jim Umpelby seems like a corporate raider there to suck out the value and sell the liabilities. Oberhelman and Umpelby are such a gigantic drain on company value that they are sucking value out of my personal house. So great!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:29 PM on March 22 [6 favorites]


Things are heating up in the tractor fandom!

That said, I'm pissed at Mahindra for fucking up the import of their compact diesel pickups. The US needs a compact pickup with a 2klb payload, dammit!
posted by stet at 9:53 PM on March 22 [5 favorites]


Good grief, I'm sick of "complicated and opaque pricing systems in markets with limited competition are good for the consumer because they might actually lower prices for a consumer with more information and forecasting ability than the massive team of specialists in the near-monopoly corporation."
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:41 PM on March 22 [8 favorites]


ridgerunner: Dude! Your great uncle (?) probably saved Grandpa's farm once in the 60s.

So cool! I would love to hear more!

I am descended from the wayward child (my grandpa) who left for the Cities a long time ago, but I love knowing that the extended family has such deep ties in state history. We always visit their building at the State Fair -- though living out of state, I mostly leave that up to my parents ans siblings now -- and it was really neat to share with my kids a book that the family had oublished a few years back.

We even showed up for the family reunion laat sunmer, and my kids were mystified by all the farmers who are their relatives -- including a handful who came from Norway!
posted by wenestvedt at 3:12 AM on March 23 [3 favorites]


Our grandpas may be soul brothers. My Manitoba-born Norwegian grandpa met my NoDak-born Irish grandma and together they bought a snazzy 1930s car and drove it to Oregon middle-fingering their parents in the process. (Big reason I didn't have to explain much when I did the same thing at their age; in my case it was getting on a plane to France.) My grandma's two NoDak sisters married two NoDak-born Finns who still have farms out there. We visited a few times; the sky truly is magnificent.

And they had not a Deere in sight. For them they were only good for lawnmowers (this is a burn in case it's not obvious).
posted by fraula at 8:03 AM on March 23 [3 favorites]


Say I buy an autonomous car in ten years (some of these tractors are happy to drive themselves around even now), and I replace one of the cameras/sensors for an ebay purchased unofficial replacement. A year later at dusk my car swerves and crashes hurting a bystander and myself.

Who is at fault?


Michael Crichton's Airframe includes an investigation into an airplane incident that uncovers, among other things, counterfeit parts bought as aftermarket replacements, in case you want a thriller that touches on this issue. It's also maybe the only Crichton novel to feature a woman as protagonist, incidentally.
posted by brainwane at 8:30 AM on March 23 [2 favorites]


"Trust the free market" my ass. Car/auto companies are the absolute worst about this.

Hence the rise of counterfeit analysis systems, mostly Chinese, for Mercedes, BMW, Audi and other makes that place certain components and systems off-limits to non-automaker certified diagnostic tools. The genuine Mercedes-Benz STAR system, for example, costs several thousand dollars, requires a dedicated laptop, an annual license and phones home for authorization to perform certain scans.
posted by bz at 1:54 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


So cool! I would love to hear more!

Well this thread is dead, so drifting some more shouldn't hurt. Posting so late because, I switched to Verizon Unlimited Data and for a week that meant unlimited amounts of nothing.

Grandpa was a son of a teamster and horse trader, born in the 19th century, just about in the middle of the Ozarks, and was straight up NDN from 2 different eastern tribes. Mellow guy that liked to make up shaggy dog stories. Grandma, a teacher in a 1 room school, was out of some of the meanest hillbillies around, seriously, 1 of her granddad's knife fights was at her aunt's wedding. He was eventually shot in the head twice by his brother in law, who was acquitted on grounds of self defense. Her dad couldn't stay out of knife fights either.

Eventually they met, married and moved away from her family drama, all the way out on the flatlands. They survived dust and the Great Depression and in what I'm sure was a compromise moved back to the transition zone between the Ozarks and the Prairie after WWII. By 1961, he, his 2 surviving sons and son in law all had farms larger than his dad's had been if you include what was leased or sharecropped.

The kids started on their own, he was trying farming for the commodity market instead of growing feed for dairy cows, beef cows and hogs. (These numbers are approximate, it been a long time) so that spring Grandpa takes a contract to deliver 500,000 pounds of corn that fall at a price that would pay off 2/3 of the mortgage on all the corn. Hopefully, on a middling good year leaving another 500,000 or so pounds of corn to pay off the other 1/3 of the mortgage and profit.

The spring was so wet we couldn't prep the fields (no 4 wheel drive John Deeres back then) and too cold to sprout if we could until late in the planting season. Mostly down here people plant 100 day corn because it tolerates a July-August dry spell better, but to meet his contract Grandpa needed 60-75 day corn. I don't know how he ended up talking to Enestvedt Seeds, but that late in the season they rounded up enough of 2 different cultivars for us to plant and shipped it out via the railroad.

The reason I remember it was Enestvedt is pretty silly. 1 of my younger cousins at the depot misread ...VEDT as VELT and wanted to know if we got the seeds from Africa. She was really smart and a good excuse to yank her chain a little was too good to waste. For several years in fact.

So his gamble on corn paid off and he continued to farm until Nixon's SecAg decided small farms on good land were too inefficient as a national policy. He got a good price for the land, and took a beating on the equipment as machinery designed for small farmers were suddenly a glut on the market. Then retired to a small patch of land with some mature pecan trees and a spot for a huge garden to occupy his time. I assumed Grandma was fine with him relieving her of that job after doing it for decades.
posted by ridgerunner at 4:13 AM on March 31 [11 favorites]


Oh, I *love* that! So cool -- I am going to share this with my family, if you don't mind.

When I was a kid, the notion of a "corn breeder" seemed silly. I didn't understand that farmers didn't save some of their crop to be seed for the following year. When I grew up, and learned more, I realized it is a pretty cool business.

The Enestvedt Seeds family farm story is probably not unique: Ole, Sr., and his wife Anne came over from Norway, and settled in southwest Minnesota in 1867 because there were already other Norwegians living there. They survived terrible winters, bad summers, the Depression, and plenty of other troubles; their eight children and many grandchildren and great^n-grandchildren became teachers, politicians, bankers -- but mostly farmers. Some of the grandkids went off to the big cities, but Enestvedt Seeds is still in business so many years later, and is one of Minnesota's Century Farms. Hey, that means this year they become one of the Sesquicentennial Farms!!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:09 AM on March 31 [5 favorites]


I am going to share this with my family, if you don't mind.

Please feel free to.

Never heard the expression "corn breeder" before, but the ability to keep 2 clean germlines going and market the hybrid every year is impressive farming. Being able to keep your cultivars away from Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta is probably equally impressive.

Gotta admit when I clicked on your politicians' link I wasn't expecting a story about farmers, Teamsters, socialists and communists. Too cool, l would have loved to have heard what he thought about SecAg Earl Butz.
posted by ridgerunner at 10:49 PM on March 31 [3 favorites]


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