For more than a few years now, we’ve been covering the saga of tractors from the larger manufacturers on which all components are locked down by software to the extent that they can only be replaced by officially sanctioned dealers. We’re thus pleased to see a couple of moments when the story has broken out of the field of a few farmers and right-to-repair geeks and into the mainstream. First up: a segment on the subject from NPR is worth a listen, as the US public radio station interviews a Montana farmer hit by a $5k fuel sensor on his John Deere as a hook form which to examine the issue. Then there is a blog post from the National Farmers Union, the body representing UK farmers, in which they too lay out the situation and also highlight the data-grabbing aspects of these machines.
(At publication we incorrectly attributed the blog post to the British NFU, when in fact it came from the American organisation of the same name. Thanks commenters for pointing it out.)
The last piece is particularly interesting, as not only does it break the story out of the USA, but also because the NFU are the largest farmers’ body in the UK and represent farmers across the whole range of British agriculture. Their leverage as a political pressure group is not inconsequential, so if this is a subject they’ve taken up, it could result in it being heard in the corridors of power.
Most of the coverage of this has centred upon John Deere tractors, but it extends beyond the familiar green and yellow machines. At its root is the vast majority of larger-scale tractor manufacturing lying with a very small number of multi-national companies who are each pursuing similar problematic software-based paths. Legislation to curb their extent is one route out of the problem, but perhaps another is for it to become an opportunity for a market entrant to seize an edge. An acquaintance of Hackaday in the fork lift industry recounted the tale of a Far Eastern manufacturer who gained market share by using similar ease of parts replacement as a selling point, perhaps it’s time for the same to happen in the field of agriculture. If it takes one of the more recent breed of large Chinese tractors arriving in a field in Kansas to catch Deere or Agco napping, they will have only themselves to blame.
Header image: AGCO-Fendt, CC BY-SA 4.0.