Just to be clear, the problem described in the article does not affect many (probably most) farmers; it primarily affects large scale grain operations that have harvest combines that use a lot of onboard computers.
It's a bit dramatic to frame this as "US farmers are being bled". Guys who grow grain on huge farms in the Midwest are not happy about the implications of the TOS they signed with Deere when they, grownups who can read, bought their tractors a few years ago. There, fixed the headline for you.
Also, check out the comment below from the child of the Deere engineer who makes the point that "liability is the enemy of automation". If you gave farmers the ability to hack their tractors you are opening a bunch of complicated issues.
If you're a grain farmer in the Midwest then you own several or dozens of these machines, they're financed, and you hedge your financing against future commodity prices.
It's a business that lends itself to massive economies of scale. A hard-working pure-hearted American farmer with a tractor from 1990 and a little bit of grit is going to be real hard-pressed to compete. Not really a matter of sucking it up and slumming it, unfortunately.
Here's a lettuce transplanter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQ1u9IwJrs8
It can transplant a lot of lettuce in a very quick amount of time, with a crew of 3 (1 driver + 2 workers on the back). You're not going to beat this plant-tape methodology with 90s era technology.
In Ag, the better you do, you lose..because quantity creates glut and farmers are at the bottom of the supply chain of cheap food. Any increase in food prices would only benefit the top. But with new tech, the farmers are bearing the burden of new technology cost without seeing an increase in revenue.
This has already led to the demise of the dairy industry. Ditto with grain and commodity crops. These are also heavily subsidized. Cheap food is subsidized by tax payers and farmers get shiny new tech toys on credit and eventually will fold. Because. Subsidies never work. I am reminded of that quote in catcher in the rye.
Just not enough people consuming dairy to justify such a huge industry
I remember talking to a doctor (maybe 30 years ago) and he said something to the effect of "someday soon it's going to come out that dairy is implicated in a lot of health issues like diabetes, etc" However I haven't seen it really come out.
Highly processed carbs aren't great either, but they're easier to grow, process, store and distrubute so ...
From 2017: oversupply and plummeting prices https://www.marketwatch.com/story/got-milk-too-much-of-it-sa... ...in Ag, it’s not always a good thing to be over productive especially if there are subsidies in place. Price controls and free market throttling will always be suicidal. Not just for dairy..also true for other commodity crops.
Farmers are in a competition for revenues. Better tractor technology growing more food with fewer workers. If all your neighbors are growing 200 bushels whenever you grow 100 bushels, you're going to die.
AWS simply won't be competitive with 90s era computers. Modern farmers won't work with tech designed in the 90s either. Sure, farming might be slower than computers at advancing, but its the same general thing. Computers (and tractors) are durable goods, they can last 20 years if you need them to. In practice, people replace durable goods regularly, because the NEW model is that much better than the old model.
So from that perspective, the economics between the computer world and farming world are probably the same. The group with superior technology will get superior revenue at lower ongoing costs. For computers, that's less power-usage for the same amount of computations (requests per second or whatever). For farmers, that's fewer workers picking your fields for the same amount of crop.
This totally leaves out the risk factor of not finishing harvest in time. In northern climates, if you don't finish, for example, by early September, the remaining crop may be unharvestable. Thus you could lose half your crop, totally.
So the economics are not at all the same.
When you have 2000 acres and it’s a single narrow harvest window, it’s not possible unless you use herbicides and inputs and reliable traited seeds and even harvest is time by desiccating with..surprise!..glyphosate, one realized with depressing clarity that the real farmer is Big Ag. It’s their world. And the rest of us belong to them.
>Farming has to scale down.
Then how are you going to feed everyone?
By the time I left the farm for college, the productivity of the American farmer had increased by almost two orders of magnitude for the 50 years beginning when my grandfather homesteaded in 1911. Improvements in technology, from using tractors instead of horses, modern cultivating techniques (strip farming, idle land cultivating), fertilizer increased yields and cut prices substantially.
When I was 3, my dad and uncle, who were partners in the farm, purchased a tractor for the equivalent of 1200 bushels of wheat. 15 years later, that same tractor would have cost 9500 bushels of wheat.
It isn't so simple that giant companies, whether it be oil, big ag, energy want to make profits. Clearly they do. But when we all insist on buying and driving cars and complain when gasoline prices are too high, there are overall economic forces at work that tend to create opportunities of scale, resulting in Big Ag and Big Energy. The consumer and the hungry mouths are all part of the equation.
Most of the commodity crop isn’t food but feed and fodder. Shifting to a predominantly vegetarian diet would also help.
We have a myth of abundance due to economies of scale. It is very costly and is really not working out. Ditto with subsidies. All this is possible because of other enormous powers working invisibly.
When goods reflect true cost of production, then consumption will come down as will wastage. Time for a reality check.
Your parents and grandparents probably could make a living out of land and farming. But most farmers today need credit to buy high tech equipment and likely hold second jobs. What’s wrong with this picture?
2. Soil gets depleted. Water is wasted. Inputs and tillage destroy soil structure. Pesticides and herbicides destroy habitat and bio diversity. These are the other costs of cheap food.
3. Please explain to me what you mean by ‘poorer use of soil’? What is your metric for best use of soil and sub optimal use of soil?
4. The goal is regenerative ag so that we can keep growing food for a long time and presence habitat and biodiversity.
When you kill the golden goose, you can have roast goose for one day. And that’s that. What’s the use of that?
I think you may be stuck in the naturalist fallacy.
Factory farming grows commodities, not food. It exploits labor, soil and destroys habitat. It keeps farmers in debt and they have to keep running faster to stay in the same place.
While more can be grown in the same acre and with the same water(presumably), it includes inputs like pesticides, herbicides and large machinery. It concentrates power in a few hands. It reduces plant varieties and is tied to speculative markets. It requires subsidies and keeps farmers on knife’s edge.
Maybe the spoon fed notion of abundance that comes from the lab and through chemical means..through mining and reliance on fossil fuels...through long supply chains, labour exploitation, subsidies and massive carbon foot print is a fallacy. Might it be that you are mistaken? Please reconsider your POV.
I’m sympathetic to that argument but if that is your stance you need to provide some evidence towards it. Otherwise you are fighting the very real benefit of the caloric argument for modern agriculture with nothing but buzzwords.
Bayer fell 40% today as verdicts come rolling against Monsanto’s glyphosate and round up. How do you think large scale factory farming Ag will survive without chemical warfare on soil? You can’t sustain that level of hubris without chemical intervention..which we now know is cancer causing and deadly to environment. And. It’s just the tip of the ice berg...
What does all this produce? Corn and soy that goes to feed anyways? Is calorific surplus the same as nutrient availability in diets? HFCS is a by product of corn which is inedible for humans but goes to feed hogs. Which in turn brings about an avalanche of pig poop which has run offs and poisons our water.
I already know that I am digressing. Where do I even begin? Ask me questions. I am full of answers. I don’t know if I can satisfy with ‘evidence’. Ymmv.
Monsanto seems to have made people believe that there are two choices: cancer or starvation. Entire Ag complex is designed around round up ready crops, gmo seeds, secondary food dependent on the primary fodder aka ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’, as it were...an Ag system that is based on go big or perish. Economics state that when you go big, food is cheap. But isn’t there a cost to it? What good is a 500k tractor to a farmer growing on 1-3 hectares(as it is in most of the world)? We are addicted to cheap food. It’s cheap because of economies of scale and certain unpleasant consequences. It’s quantity over quality.
Note that I was specific to crop farming; I chose my words carefully. I'm not interested in debating CAFO meat here; it's not the topic of the thread.
So yea..large scale Ag is geared towards commodity crops that go to feed livestock and all the sundry by products like ethanol and HFCS etc.
Those ‘increased yields’ aren’t even human edible. It only increases meat and factory farmed meat that taints our water and has a massive carbon foot print and methane. So I am asking you..what are YOU talking about when you think of scale?
A diversified food farm can net anywhere between 1000-40000 bucks. Commodity is anywhere between 45-120 dollars(corn-sugar beets). Why do you think JD makes air conditioned tractors for commodity that nets $50 and not for higher value vegetables? Because you can spray broadacre pesticide for mono crops. Pollinator dependent food cannot abide by chemicals that kill the pollinators.
I don’t know what ‘almost certainly not’ carcinogenic means but I will concur and call it glyphosate based products that are known to cause cancer.
Agtech doesn’t create anything for food crops. Almost always for commodity crops that can be 1. Stored 2. A single one time harvest 3. Traded at the stock market. It is a data play and a speculative industry. It’s neither about Ag nor about Tech. When we can trade spinach on Wall Street, Agtech will create scale appropriate tech.
I am not sure you understand the scope and breadth of Ag. Large scale Ag will falter because it’s not sustainable. At which point, only small scale Ag will feed the world, but our world is over populated. So we need Agtech for small scale farms and for that tech to be born, people must pay the true cost of growing food.
I mean, the clear alternative is to buy tractors without the same features.
I'm not sure why manufacturers are obligated to sell certain features without a TOS.
> Or is this a unilateral power grab by the manufacturers?
How is this a power grab? That would only be true if the only tractor manufacturer in the world is John Deere.
Other comments say that these tractors are always purchased with a loan, in which case the loan provider (and insurance companies) can make stipulations about the usage and maintenance of the tractors. And perhaps John Deere can help enforce those. But for them to just put a unilateral blanket ban on modifying their equipment is wrong. If they have a monopoly it is an abuse of power and should be punished; if they don't then the market will fix the issue itself, for example via farmers complaining and then not buying from them any more.
Contracts that limit your ability to do things are very common.
If you buy a pure bred dog, you will typically be required to sign a contract that requires you to not breed it and to get it neutered after a certain period of time. If for some reason you need to give it up, you will have to return it to the breeder.
If you buy a movie on DVD, you can enjoy it in your home, but you can't set up an impromptu theater by projecting the movie on the side of a building.
The import thing, was the customer provided notice of this restriction at or before the time of sale. It sounds like the answer to this question is: yes.
You may be tempted to to claim some sort of power imbalance, which I don't buy in the general case, but in this particular case it is even less relevant. Large farms that use automated machinery costing many hundreds of thousands of dollars is the very definition of sophisticated customer, capable of hiring legal help and evaluating options.
That said, despite all the crying about people not being able to work on cars any more, I just don't see it. I change my own oil on my 2015 Mazda, and I can easily change other parts on it too. Maybe there's certain brands that intentionally throw up roadblocks? But I don't see it with mainstream Japanese brands; these cars are very easy to work on.
Contracts are laws, the people who write them create laws to favor themselves, and the people who don't have leverage to negotiate the contracts are subject to those laws without any meaningful representation.
They're not obligated to per se, I just think it's a crappy business practice and I'm glad people are free to call them out on it.
And that is significant source of livelihood (and culture) for people in the midwest. Sure, different people think of different kinds of farmers when they hear the word, "farmer", however, for a sizable chunk of the US, that does actually mean grain (corn/soybeans) farmers.
And even 'smaller' operations have to upgrade their (shared) equipment at some point.
A mobile-friendly CRM for managing slaughter schedules and other livestock related stuff, that also incorporates something Asana-like for delegating and tracking farm tasks
A predictive analytics platform that takes data from ground-implanted sensors and weather services and does some analysis and gives me input on when we should plan to hay, which I will probably ignore anyway if we're being honest
I'll respond again if I think of anything else. Thank you for asking!
How large of an area would you need location tracking?
If I could a) get an app-driven alert when an animal leaves the area of pasture she's supposed to be in and b) have a mobile app that shows me where she is in relation to me so I can more easily find a 30-pound dark brown calf hunkered down in the woods at night, I'd be pretty stoked.
By the way, there is good LTE coverage where I am, and a lot of farms don't necessarily have great cell coverage, so bear that in mind if you're trying to get a feel for what the larger market might want. What I mean is, there's a mobile-only use case here and there's also a use case where you have a combination web-based UI (farmer's desktop) and an OEM handheld homing device for finding loose animals. If you want to get really fancy you do a Twilio integration and trigger a robocall to the farmer's landline so she wakes up in the middle of the night and logs into the web app to see what's going on.
- Shut when they retire (the land is too marginal for a big dairy to want it)
- Be taken over by the one cousin with interest.
If the latter, the labor pool is still an issue. The only way it would work out is if advanced tech comes in like what you've described. So the issue will affect farms your size/type, just not for another decade or two. Ignoring it as "nope, doesn't affect me!" seems just a little... short sighted to me. Thoughts?
If you're haying a small factory farm, driving the tractor is a small fraction of the labor; you're also moving the hay from fields to barn in a trailer and then stacking hay with either humans, a tractor, or a skid-steer. All of this might eventually get automated a la the recent news on Amazon factories, but we're probably (at least) a few years away from that.
Absolutely, and I don't expect it to be a thing for a decade(s) - until after it's a solved issue on roads and/or the large, flat plots out west.
> If you're haying a small factory farm, driving the tractor is a small fraction of the labor
I agree. However, it's also (in my limited experience) the most weather dependent part - there's usually a short weather window to get it cut, dried, and baled - and having an extra set of (self-driving wheels) would be beneficial.
> All of this might eventually get automated a la the recent news on Amazon factories, but we're probably (at least) a few years away from that.
Philosophical aside: Has this statement ever actually been true?
I've seen lots of these "farmers can't fix their tractors" articles, and without exception, they're ALL about John Deere. There are other farm equipment makers out there: Kubota and New Holland come to mind.
Do I need to stock up on firearms and start a militia, and then travel to NK to overthrow the leadership there, because there's a real chance of Kim Jong Un taking over the world?
That's an interesting take. In my experience, a significant proportion of adults who can literally make the right sounds come out of their mouth if asked to read words, and who can have a stab at telling you what any individual word means, nonetheless struggle to put meaning to any lengthy set of the written word beyond their typical day-to-day experiences (tending towards almost 100% of the population when confronted with the standard styles used in some industries). While they can literally read, I think "grownups who can read" implies a fluency in these situations that many don't have.
Furthermore, if you're in the commodity grain business you sign a lot of paperwork. You sign it for your hedging contracts, for your asset financing, for your farm insurance which often has a lot of detailed terms, etc. The idea that the farmers affected by the general issue of tractor software are neophytes when it comes to contracts strikes me as a misleading one.
Discussions on this topic always end up one-sided and simplistic. Hopefully I can shed some light on the more nuanced reasoning behind John Deere's position.
Having the DRM in place allows Deere to reduce manufacturing expense and increase platform flexibility. There is a very wide array of needs that farmers have based on what they do. Deere allows buyers to customize tractors to their needs for everything from engine horsepower, to wheel count, size, and type, cab quality-of-life, to hydraulic hookups for implements. Some of these changes are just a software change, while others are a software + hardware change.
Engine horsepower, for example, can be increased by a software update. Techincally, this is pretty cool. Designing and manufacturing engines is expensive. This allows them to manufacture fewer different engines that can cover a wider variety of use cases. It also allows farmers the flexibility to upgrade their engine horsepower at a future date. If I remember correctly each extra 50hp above the base costs ~10k, so the large configurations subsidize the cost of the base configurations.
With that understanding, think of how this can apply to Deere's obligations to the EPA or to warranties.
Years ago, farmers found a hack where they could put a resister in-line between the diesel temperature sensor and the ECU and increase their horsepower. The hack spread like wildfire. This made the engines run in a configuration that had not been tested by Deere or approved by the EPA. Who would the EPA go after if it had caused emissions issues? Should Deere honor the warranty in this case of those who did the hack? How would Deere know if someone did the hack, borked the engine, then removed the resistor?
Liability is the enemy of automation. Deere has added some automation over the years, allowing the tractors to drive straight down the field without intervention, and executing perfect turns at the push of a button. This is functionality that no companies would let end users change. Much like my dad, a tractor is not a cell phone. Installing a custom rom on a cell phone is one thing, updating the autonomous driving of a 10 ton tractor is quite another.
There's got to be some middle ground, but I don't know what it is.
How do you see this as an asset? Deere designed a part that's capable of doing something and your software chokes that back unless they poney up.
In manufacturing we have the same thing. You buy a CNC machine that comes equipped with 16mb of memory, but only 2mb is usable. If you want all 16mb (which already exists soldered to your motherboard) you need to pony up thousands of dollars for a 16 digit code that unlocks the added memory.
And you're trying to tell me that by requiring the manufacturer to share that code is bad for the consumer? Yeah, you don't sound like a shill or anything.
And no, Deere shouldn't fix that under warranty. It's the same with cars. You can do that trick to a Honda with a resistor in-line to the MAF sensor and it will run the car lean, giving the illusion of more performance while wearing out the engine and burning the combustion chamber way too hot. Should Honda fix that? No way! Should Honda let the customer do it anyway? Of course they should! Should Honda share the schematics with the customer so they not only realize that it's a bad idea, but also know WHY it's a bad idea? Yes.
Your argument is straw man. If you didn't have secrets you wouldn't need DRM. DRM doesn't protect anyone except the edge-case of idiots who shouldn't mess with the tractor even if you gave them the repair manual anyway. It's strictly to protect Deere.
That breaks the site guidelines. Would you please review them and follow them when posting here?
Also, please don't jump on someone just because you disagree with them and have strong feelings on a topic. bricej13 posted an interesting comment. You're welcome to disagree, ask questions, make counterpoints, etc., but please do so in a spirit of good conversation.
I was an intern. I wasn't anywhere near the engine controller software.
> And no, Deere shouldn't fix that under warranty. It's the same with cars. You can do that trick to a Honda with a resistor in-line to the MAF sensor and it will run the car lean, giving the illusion of more performance while wearing out the engine and burning the combustion chamber way too hot. Should Honda fix that? No way! Should Honda let the customer do it anyway? Of course they should! Should Honda share the schematics with the customer so they not only realize that it's a bad idea, but also know WHY it's a bad idea? Yes.
Looks like we agree here.
> It's strictly to protect Deere.
We also agree here.
> Engine horsepower, for example, can be increased by a software update.
> How do you see this as an asset?
I explained this further in another comment.
> Yeah, you don't sound like a shill or anything.
I explicitly stated my bias in the first line.
I am interested in this bit:
The expensive configurations subsidize the base configurations.
This idea is common now. Rigol scopes often perform well above spec. CNC machinery has unlockable features. Other examples are not hard to find.
Does this literally mean companies who do this sort of thing sell at a net loss, or not?
A net loss would warrant the word subsidy. Anything else is not really a subsidy at all.
Which is it?
In a highly-competitive market I suspect that they would, but maybe not in a less-competitive market.
Reduced manufacturing expense - Yup, DRM and platform lock-down (machinery is a platform??) increases profits. Tractors sure aren't getting cheaper on account of these "improvements".
"Platform flexibility" is nothing more than the ability for JD to lock out capabilities of the machinery that the farmer supposedly bought, and sell it as an add-on later. Again, no doubt this is advantageous for JD, just as locking out portions of a game until later payment is advantageous for EA. It is still terrible for the farmer.
Yep, that was my point in posting. It's usually good to hear both sides of things.
> Yup, DRM and platform lock-down (machinery is a platform??) increases profits
Reducing manufacturing costs is not the same as increasing profits. They're not a monopoly, they still have to set prices according to the market. This allows them to price things lower.
> "Platform flexibility" is nothing more than the ability for JD to lock out capabilities of the machinery that the farmer supposedly bought, and sell it as an add-on later.
Do you think that when a farmer spends 100k they don't know what they're buying? I don't know what you mean when you say they 'supposedly' bought it. They order a tractor, customize it, and buy it. It allowes them to get a tractor at a lower price point and upgrade as needed
No one is saying that different hardware (or even software) features of the tractor shouldn't be configurable and charged accordingly, but the lock-out is different. JD is crippling the capabilities.
> No one is saying that different hardware (or even software) features of the tractor shouldn't be configurable and charged accordingly, but the lock-out is different. JD is crippling the capabilities.
This is exactly how modern chip fabrication works for computer processors. The crippling of the product at one end of the product price point spectrum allows the manufacturer to sell the device at a lower price point which ultimately benefits consumers who wouldn't be able to enter the marketplace at the otherwise higher price point. I'm not defending the practice outright but it's not such an outright scam as one might conclude upon first glance.
In general, though, I'd argue that historically such price discrimination (i.e. via contracts, copyright, etc) has usually served to inflate prices. You usually only find such price discrimination in non-competitive markets.
In any event, anyone who says that it leads to lower prices is at best misleading. It can theoretically. In a competitive market the question is irrelevant because if it led to higher prices people would change suppliers. The question really only matters in situations where the market isn't particularly competitive.
You're making this more complicated than it has to be. You can easily know this by just looking at the capabilities that other tractor manufacturers are offering at the same price.
Like he said, there's no monopoly in the tractor business. And it's not like someone is buying a fake Gucci bag by accident. These are $100,000+ purchases with a lot of back and forth. You know what you're getting into and you've presumably shopped around to look at a ton of alternatives.
Maybe, but it's not immediately clear. And in any event it would be foolish to take Intel at their word that their strategy results in lower prices and/or better products, regardless of their sincerity.
And FWIW I'm not claiming that John Deere should be prohibited from doing what they're doing technologically, not unless it rises to an anti-trust violation. However, I do oppose the abuse and extension of copyright to prevent reverse engineering and prevent owners from modifying their machines. Even if John Deere's strategy is resulting in lower prices at the low-end, I'm not prepared to sacrifice the ability more generally (in this and other markets) for reverse-engineering competitors to sell their own firmware. There are many other reasons beyond the threat of copyright lawsuits why customers wouldn't want to run a machine with adulterated firmware, so even if a robust reverse engineering market resulted in higher prices for these particular tractors, it'll likely only be marginally so. I don't think it's worth cutting-off potential competition at the knees for whatever gain John Deere is claiming. History has shown that such policies, writ large, are extremely detrimental.
It'd be easier to argue that writing the code and building the governor capabilities into the product in the first place inflate the price of the product to begin with (because adding and supporting "features" require both initial investment and maintenance), and then using the product to it's actual limit is artificially inflated, because they can.
That's true, they already spent all the dimes installing the top-of-the line engine in the tractor.
> JD is crippling the capabilities.
Said another way: Deere gives a discount to those who don't need the full capabilities of the engine provided. Another user pointed out that market price is $1000 per horsepower. That's a significant savings when you don't need the extra 1-300hp.
The idea of buying 'Horsepower' instead of an engine is pretty weird though.
Which is a "separate" question from whether the Government can limit what you can do with something you own. It's further clouded by the fact that you sign a contract when you buy it so you explicitely gave up some of your rights.
So JD, which isn't losing money on the "entry level" product provides no actual goods or service for the upgrade, beyond removing the governor. At that point, it's more or less free money to JD -- profit with nothing provided the consumer.
Suppose they offered, say, 3 models of tractor that were identical except that they had physically different engines. The base model is $100k, the middle model is $110k and 50 more horsepower, and the top model is $120k and 100 more horsepower than the base model.
If a farmer buys the $100k model, and later decides that he needs 100 more horsepower, he's going to have to sell the $100k model and buy the $120k model. He won't get anywhere near $100k for the old one, so the next cost of upgrading is going to be a lot more than the $20k difference between the new prices of the two models.
Now consider if all three models had identical engines, with the horsepower on the $100k and $110k models limited by software in the ECU. Now if our farmer buys the $100k model and decides later than he needs 100 more horsepower, he just has to pay $20k .
What's the lifetime of these things? If it is long, the ability to buy just the capacity you need now and upgrade years later as your needs grow by just paying the difference between the cost you the model you bought and the model you now need could be very attractive.
 Well, probably a little more, as I would assume that they would price things so that it is a little cheaper to buy a more expensive model up front rather than buy a cheaper model and upgrade later.
Upping the fuel pressure and changing some maps should not cost the consumer $10k. The markup in that is ridiculous.
> Should Deere honor the warranty in this case of those who did the hack?
So long as the hack didn't cause the problem they are legally obligated to honor the warranty.
I agree. The problem is that you could update the software to void the warranty, then do a factory reset when you have problems. Deere would never know that you operated the tractor outside of the parameters that they designed, built, and tested, but then they would be on the hook for it.
> Upping the fuel pressure and changing some maps should not cost the consumer $10k. The markup in that is ridiculous.
My numbers probably aren't that accurate, but they're not selling just software in that case. They've already bought an engine (for cheap) that is capable of that horsepower. They just don't realize the cost for it until they actually upgrade.
The simple part of this argument is the right to repair part. Deere should just sell their service tool at a profit and provide software updates to the customer and not just dealers. Then we would be done with this right to repair argument.
That's their problem, not the consumer's. Once you buy something you should be able to do anything you want with it. I don't see any problem if they sell detuned engines and consumers retune them to get the HP back.
> And I'm not sure too many of your things actually REQUIRE DRM to be carried out.
I actually agree. They're using DRM as a legal fix for what is a technical problem.
I feel like you missed the point about the warranty. We probably agree that if someone re-flashes their controllers they've voided their warranty. The problem for Deere comes when someone screws it up, flashes back to factory settings and takes it in for warranty work. They could have done tens of thousands of dollars of damage. This is not FUD to Deere, it is an actual risk. Their 'fix' for that problem is DRM. (Again, I'm not promoting DRM)
It also seems to me Deere could simply quote the repair too. Hell, bundle it in with financing so the user learns their lesson without breaking the bank.
So, farmer bob mods his machine, breaks it.
I know Deere does a ton of actual hard testing. They know what, "damn, where did that log or boulder come from" looks like. They also know what, "it is running hot / over spec" looks like too.
Deere sees a freshly flashed machine, and it goes as follows:
Why did you flash it?
Why did you not call us first so we understand what happened?
That conversation ends up either a warranty / maintenance conversation, or not.
Then, the work to put the machine back to spec gets quoted.
Farmer Bob pays up, perhaps with a loan, and everyone moves on.
The liability angle is particularly interesting here - I didn't really consider that part of the drive to DRM everything might be pressure created by regulators. It's obvious in the case of autonomous driving, but not necessarily elsewhere. Then again:
> Who would the EPA go after if it had caused emissions issues?
Would they really go after Deere? I never checked this, but I think in case of cars, end-users are liable for the modifications; if the company has tests proving that the model under investigation meets the regulatory standards in its sold configuration, then they're off the hook. Why would the same thinking not apply to farm equipment?
In the perfect world, it would all work itself out. In the real world, while the farmers have every incentive to extract as much performance as physically possible from their equipment, JD - like every business - has a lot of incentive to screw farmers over. Competitive pressure is a traditional protection against too much abuse of customers, but it doesn't really apply all that much when you have a small amount of providers. DRM itself is, in its general form, a mechanism for creating a localized alternative reality, in which you can attach colour to bits. It allows businesses to enforce arbitrary rules in their products - rules that would be impossible to enforce in pre-computer reality. This is open for abuse, and also kind of destroys the protection of competitive pressure - attach DRM to something, and its complementary commodities stop being commodities. Customers lose their traditional protection from abusive tendencies of for-profit businesses.
There must be a better way, one that creates a fair balance between interests of sellers and buyers, but I too don't know what it is.
 - https://ansuz.sooke.bc.ca/entry/23
I don't know the details, just that this something they worry about. I'm guessing that <speculation> the wording in the EPA regulations requires companies to take 'reasonable measures' to prevent end-users from subverting emissions mechanisms. 'Reasonable measures' is a grey area that the lawers get to fight about. That said, buying a black box off of ebay and plugging it in seems pretty easy.</speculation>
> In the perfect world, it would all work itself out. In the real world, while the farmers have every incentive to extract as much performance as physically possible from their equipment, JD - like every business - has a lot of incentive to screw farmers over. Competitive pressure is a traditional protection against too much abuse of customers, but it doesn't really apply all that much when you have a small amount of providers. DRM itself is, in its general form, a mechanism for creating a localized alternative reality, in which you can attach colour to bits. It allows businesses to enforce arbitrary rules in their products - rules that would be impossible to enforce in pre-computer reality. This is open for abuse, and also kind of destroys the protection of competitive pressure - attach DRM to something, and its complementary commodities stop being commodities. Customers lose their traditional protection from abusive tendencies of for-profit businesses.
This is all well-settled in the automotive world, why is JD 'different'?
Here in the EU Volkswagen has a different maintenance and repair policy depending on whether the car stayed in the network for revisions or not, and I think aftermarket changes would also matter.
They’re not refusing or blocking anything, just putting a price tag on consumer’s freedom to do what they want.
Because laws were passed in the US that specifically allow these kinds of things (like customer repairability and modification) for cars. Those laws do not apply to tractors.
Sounds like it's right out of the sales brochure.
And no wonder. Inducing artificial market segmentation by selling software-crippled devices is hugely unpopular with consumers.
I find it ironic that the unlock ended up being a resistor, just like with the Promise IDE controller / RAID controller from long ago -- another example of a company trying to save costs by designing one product and shipping it as two products (with one of them software-crippled). That instance was also hugely unpopular with consumers, and that resistor hack also spread like wildfire.
There are lots of things that you can run outside of spec, but they introduce premature wear, which is why they don't run that way by default.
At least the best at marketing. A big time operator friend of mine, with a fleet of predominately Deere equipment, ordered a new CaseIH tractor a couple of years ago. Before it even showed up on the farm, John Deere caught wind of the purchase and swooped in to make him an offer he couldn't refuse, buying out the never used CaseIH tractor from him, and getting him into a green machine instead.
Of course, us smaller farmers look to what the bigger farmers are doing to gain some insight into how they are successful, as people do. When you see the big guys running Deere equipment, it is easy to think that Deere helped them achieve the success they have, and if you buy Deere equipment you will also be successful. But there is some smoke and mirrors going on.
I have a few different brands on my farm. As far as getting the job done, I'm not sure any are better than any other. They all break down just the same. However, John Deere does seem to have an edge on operator comfort. Which, admittedly, is nice on the long days.
Amazing! Yes, comfort. That just has to boost sales.
That dealership has now been replaced with a John Deere-only dealership. From what I was told, nowadays John Deere only wants to sell to dealerships who exclusively sell John Deere equipment, so they had pressured the previous dealership.
So I think that's been a factor in the consolidation of farming equipment dealerships, which are now further apart and siloed into different manufacturers. It's not a healthy/competitive market for farm equipment buyers.
I'd guess farms and fields tend to be bigger in the US, making the economies of scale work in favour of bigger tractors.
Most contractors use New Holland tractors now.
I suspect the reason is a shift from annual crops to permanent crops, that do not need much of the high-end functionalities.
If it is the main tool for your job then you aren't going to want anything less than the best. John Deere seem to have that going for their business strategy.
The tractor business model reminds me of how workstations and mini-computers were sold with vendor lock in. That market didn't survive the 1990's and the onslaught of affordable PCs. There is nothing on the horizon to disrupt the tractor business, it is not as if new affordable mega-tractors are going to come along at ordinary car prices to encourage masses of people to go 'back to the land' and put the likes of John Deere in difficulties.
Bigger and bigger agri-business can't go on forever though, it is built on assumptions about the inputs. Half of the food on my plate tonight comes from places too far away for me to ever fly to myself, but, if climate change action is to happen then my diet and everyone else's will have to be a lot more locally sourced.
An excellent point that I've have views about for years. Reckon we need to cover this under a separate topic as it's a huge one and covers such issues about what is and is not or should not be permitted under capitalism and free trade as we understand them today.
Is nobody else making tractors anymore?
I remember John Deere tractors being the very cream of the crop: are they still well-made and revered for it?
What a weird world. We would have been incredulous to be told that one day we wouldn't be able to repair our tractors without computers. That was back in the TRS-80 era, for reference...
A user would need access to low level components, and this also means hackers.
But they also want to protect their business with lockout strategies.
I've driven Cat D6 bulldozers that were older than I was when I was in college, and they are still going, a decade later.
Particularly the stuff that is built for heavy usage has to be used hard, patched together with limited repair facilities in remote places, and handled by inexpert operators.
Ergo, you can count on JD not going out of business any time soon. "Too big to fail" and all that. JD's master plan has now come to fruition.
My hometown used to make a sizable chunk of the US's fasteners, and there was real concern during the Cold War that dropping a single bomb on it could cripple the entire nation's industrial capacity. Here, it seems like there may be an unacceptable strategic risk that a bomb dropped on Moline, Illinois could cripple the entire nation's food production capacity.
My father owns a John Deere, kind of old, and it is a good machine. It is not that sophisticated, and all the electronics we use are bought separately. We do not have this kind of problem yet.
The convenience and added benefit of a self-guided, GPS/RTK oriented tractor has this annoying cost. John Deere wants a share of what farmers save with more efficient machines, and then some more.
In which case you still won't be locked out of your machine, in the sense that you can choose the company with the best farming AI.
The only way for a quick automation scenario is to make crops a lot more predictable. In our days, this means linearly sown and harvested, artifact free crops.
If we choose a more hands-on approach to farming (and food production in general for that matter), then automation ceases to be as interesting.
We can't even get interop between instant messaging platforms, and video calling platforms. Why would we anticipate that companies manufacturing $200,000+ pieces of equipment are going to work together when they have the option of lock-in?
I would never do that, unless I was actually renting the land. Some people do rent their land, and perhaps committing to such a contract could make sense to them.
The alternative is to simply buy a tractor and then hire someone that does many other things, like driving other tractors, cleaning them and do some repairs and maintenance. (If I could do that to my own AI-powered tractor, maybe then I would buy one). This is about who controls your business.
I believe there's future in modularity, but I also believe some kinds of equipment won't fall into the automation ratchet or the "evolve to AI or die" category.
If you are developing an AI sophisticated enough to pilot a tractor, would it only be able to drive one model? If John Deere ever achieved this goal, the AI should be adaptable to other brands as well.
Car manufacturers are doing this already with Android. They do not develop the OS, they simple accommodate their cars for it.
I have a working GPS system that belonged to my father's John Deere tractor. I cannot use it anymore, even in other John Deere tractors. This is wasteful and makes no sense. People working in farms, close to nature and subject to profit margins they do not completely control feel very uncomfortable with this.
As always, if this matters to you, get involved and vote.
¹ Which I have actually done, carefully, on my way to the mechanic 20 miles away to get them fixed.
Actually no, and driving without brakes is a perfect example. Driving a car without brakes on a public road is a crime. Arranging approval for autonomous driving on public roads is an involved and highly regulated process. Hacking in your own "improvements" is similarly criminal.
I also acknowledge that handing control to a modified computer is a little different than manually controlling a modified car, and it could have much more disastrous effects. But I don't think anyone will actually do that.
(As for when I did drive without brakes that one time, my car had a manual transmission and a fully-functioning hand brake, and I was in full control of the vehicle at all times. I drove slowly and carefully along back roads, and kept a 100 m gap ahead of me at all times. I was well-practiced at down-shifting to slow down, and used to regularly come to a complete stop from freeway speeds down the ramp without touching the brake pedal, just because I could. And "no brakes" is a slight exaggeration; I had some brakes, but there was a leak and I didn't want to use them unless I absolutely had to, and I didn't have to. Would I do it again? Probably not, but I was young and willing to take minor risks like that.)
I'm definitely of the "if you can't open it you don't own it" philosophy. I just think right now there is not enough care around auto-drivers by the companies making them, let alone the owners.
Didn't mean to derail the conversation, tractors are a whole different thing. No high speeds, no oncoming traffic.
I'm not sure why half our economy suddenly seems to be structured around these "too essential to fail" business models, but it's brand new and really really stupid. I guess this is the end result of a generation of people coming up while a gaggle of billionaires get bailed out while absolutely nobody went to prison.
Sounds like it's really, really smart from a business perspective.
I think it's similar to the idea of, "if you owe the bank a million, that's your problem, but if you owe the bank a trillion, it's their problem." Would you rather have the gov't bail out JD or risk massive food shortages? I know my choice.
> Sounds like it's really, really smart from a business perspective.
> I think it's similar to the idea of, "if you owe the bank a million, that's your problem, but if you owe the bank a trillion, it's their problem." Would you rather have the gov't bail out JD or risk massive food shortages? I know my choice.
What kind of society are we building where it is sound business strategy, effectively, to hold a gun to the head of government?
If it's the former then John Deere has set itself up for some massive liabilities if their servers crap out for extended periods during critical planting/harvest windows.
That is not an assumption or a guess. I've deployed Wi-Fi to farms and the first thing they reach for is an iPad and Netflix.
Despite his age he was a really early ebook adopter since they live in such a rural spot. The library can transfer books from bigger cities, but the shipping time is so slow and there is a limit to the number of books you can check out at once. Basically the netflix disc problem before they switched to streaming. Taking out ebooks from the library is really easy and a great way to pass the dull time spent on the tractor.
Some of the more sophisticated tractors are like being in a plane on auto-pilot. Some you can even pilot remotely if you're really not in the mood to drive it, like a gigantic Roomba.
Legal fears scare tractor manufacturers from making something truly autonomous; there's supposed to be a human in the driver's seat at all times. That said, John Deere has had self-driving tractors for almost 20 years, now. And I mean they automatically steer themselves, they don't just go straight for a predetermined amount of time (though they can do that, too.)
Not that I like that John Deer is the Apple of Farming, but let's not act like people can't hot wire and program electrical systems.
Writing a controller is a non trivial task. But it can be done.
These are two different things.
It seems likely to me a bank would be thrilled to loan money to a consistently profitable farmer whose machines just shut themselves off because Reasons and need replacing ASAP.
I don't want to make the mistake of assuming farmers can't manage their finances, they certainly can. But on the farmer's end, there's lots of variables that can be in play, adding unexpected debt can only increase that.
On the bank's side, if "widespread tractor failure" is a real event, banks would be issuing potential risky loans in the millions to farms, businesses, and people. Though yes, if it was a local credit union, dealing with just a couple clients, it might be a risk worth taking. Maybe it'd help out some small local banks as well as small farmers - but whether that's scalable could be a challenging business question.
1) Non-DRM'd tractors for this kind of thing would suddenly become valuable and used much more intensely (e.g. 24 hours a day).
2) Food prices would go up a bit as people shift to alternatives.
3) Everyone in the US cuts back on a few low-value uses of the grain (probably marginal livestock).
4) Some politicians bluster about the need for lower food prices, but there's no real will for significant change.
Then, after all the reverse engineering happens, things go back to normal.
Not that I think any of this is ever likely to happen, but even small disruptions to the food supply can have large consequences.
It would be really funny if one was Huawei.
Then there are other in eastern europe and china, but not available in europe
Why would I pay $50k+ for a new tractor that does way more than I really need, breaks down often and I can't service when I can get an old but just as useful tractor for $3-5k.
The companies that have sprung up to build parts for these ancient tractors is absolutely fascinating. Outside of perhaps some of the larger cast pieces, you can replace almost everything with new parts.
There is a literal workforce dedicated to fixing or fabricating these old parts.
Find your nearest custom machine shop. One-job shops. They exist to build or fix a million things one time, instead of production machining where they build one thing a million times.
These people are mad-geniuses at reverse-engineering and figuring out how to make things based on burnt-out or broken pieces.
Source; My father is a master machinist at one of these shops. He has worked on everything from re-building hydraulic cylinders for local guys to one-off parts for prototype cars that we can't discuss the name of to rebuilding structural supports on a bridge.