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U.S. Farmers Are Being Bled by the Tractor Monopoly (bloomberg.com)
441 points by jelliclesfarm 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 335 comments





Farmer here - 200 head of grass fed cattle plus hay operation.

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.


Is there an alternative where they don't sign an equivalent TOS and still get the same features? Perhaps they have to pay for the privilege? Or is this a unilateral power grab by the manufacturers?

Midwest grain farmers are super boxed in with regard to what they must sign in order to have access to the latest tractor technology for their specific crop, but that's happening within the context of the technology getting incrementally better year-by-year, i.e., continuously cheaper input costs per unit of crop yield. This is all somewhat par for the course for a highly commoditized industry.

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.


Why do they need the latest tractor technology? Amazingly, people used to survive using tractors without air conditioning. Just slum it a little and use something that was state of the art for 1990. Plenty of Deere competitors can beat that.

We're talking about grain combines that are 50 feet wide and cost half a million dollars new, that are GPS-guided, and that have multiple advanced control systems that optimize rotor speeds, tractor speed, blade height, and dozens of other settings multiple times per second.

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.


I'm not fully up to date on farming technology, but you bring up a good point. I think most laypeople don't realize just how complicated these machines are.

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.


That plant tape technology was developed in Spain and acquired by a Salinas lettuce company. They still struggle with margins due to CA labour costs and regulations. At some point, even economies of scale will totter when things become too big.

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.


Dairy is facing strong headwinds given that americans consume 93 less gallons of dairy per person less than they did in the 1980s.

Just not enough people consuming dairy to justify such a huge industry


I've found out over time that dairy just isn't that good for you. It's not well known that dairy is one of the most common allergies. Also a lot of people have lactose intolerance (not the same as allergy)

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 ...


I would suspect, that if you are looking at per-capita consumption, a large factor would simply be that the proportion of the population that is adapted to consume dairy products has shrunk. Drinking milk is, in some ways, kind of a weird accident, and the genes responsible for making that possible are clustered in a few different regions. An increasing share of immigration and population growth in the intervening decades has come from populations where those genes are rarer.

that population only declined proportionally, not numerically. so if consumption didn't drop, you'd have the exact number of dairy farms as before

I can't comment on per capita consumption in 1980, but this data[1] seems to suggest that Americans are actually consuming _more_ dairy products per capita than in the year 2000 – 643 pounds per year in 2017 vs 591 pounds in 2000.

[1] https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/dairy-data/


https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/dairy-farming-is-dyin... : this is a good read from a dairy farmer who quit/retired ...it gives some perspective.

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.


Maybe it's because I've been playing "Surviving Mars" recently, but I can't help to think that the answer to the dairy industry is to find a new market on Mars. Realistically milk is something that won't be produced on that planet for a very long time, so exporting cheese would be big business.

I guess we need to colonise Mars to create a market there, then. Finally an economic reason to go there.

Do you have a blog or YT channel or something where you discuss these issues more? I’d love to follow you.

No but thank you for saying that!

Who needs the latest computer technology? Amazingly, people used to compute by hand. Just slum it a little and use something that was state of the art for 1990s. Plenty of Intel competitors can beat that.

------

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.


> So from that perspective, the economics between the computer world and farming world are probably the same

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.


Farming has to scale down. Big Ag which includes tractor companies, input companies, pesticides/herbicides companies and GMO seed companies are like a cartel. They completely control the market.

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.


The reality is a bit more complicated than that.

>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.


I see it as a sign that we are way past our carrying capacity. Automating Ag would help secure food supply but when automation takes over, economies of scale don’t matter.

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?


It is really hard to follow this argument. Smaller-scale crop farming doesn't just feed fewer people; it may also make poorer use of the land. It's hard to see how going backwards would help anyone.

Intensive farming is also causing damage to the soil and underground water. You can have high productivity small scale crop but it requires more hands. Also we produce a lot of food that is never consumed but thrown away. Both the American subsidies and EU subsidies (CAP) were designed a long time ago in the aftermath of WWII. But I think, we are not ready for this conversation yet.

Smaller scale farming could take advantage of less fertilizer intensive growing methods. Right now, 60% of the world's total crop yield is the direct result of artificial fertilizer usage, fertilizer that is derived from natural gas and is non-renewable and polluting.

It will make people pay more for food. Is that such a bad thing? There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Yes, it will do that (which is bad) and also it will probably make poorer use of the land itself. What exactly is the goal of doing this? Immiseration for its own sake?

1. Why is paying more for food a bad thing?...the true cost of growing food..a bad thing?

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?


Given fixed inputs of soil and water, extracting more usable crops is strictly better than extracting fewer.

I think you may be stuck in the naturalist fallacy.


Small scale Ag is the opposite of Factory Farming. The latter relies on economies of scale and a long supply chain. The former has a shorter supply chain and tries to grow on demand.

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.


You aren’t making a very clear argument. I think what you are arguing is that modern agriculture does not capture its externalities so any supposed productivity improvements are not as valuable as they seem on the surface.

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.


Help me provide evidence. I honestly don’t know where to start.

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.


Glyphosate is almost certainly not a human carcinogen, but, more importantly, glyphosate isn't the topic of this thread. Ag tech is: things like sensor-based control of computer-configurable combine harvesters. These devices generally increase yields for a given input of water, soil, and energy. So, if you're going to begin somewhere, please begin by explaining how those increased yields are a bad thing.

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.


The topic of this thread is economies of scale wet scale of farming. And so yes, we should talk about everything!! Including CAFO meat. Where do you think all the GMO corn and soy goes? As does storable commodity crops. You can’t grow lettuce and eggplants on 2000 acre farms using fancy JD tractors. How will perishables that can be harvested every 60 days be picked and stored and transported and sold?

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.


Farming uses tangible inputs and resources...almost most of them non renewable. It’s not like scalable replicating code. Why do you say it makes poor use of land? That makes no sense to me.

I work in automotive tech and i hear this all the time, "why we can't just jump a power wire to there?" People love technology when it works for them, when it breaks suddenly they want to be back in the80's.

How much lower profit margin will you accept? If the guy next to you can harvest twice as fast as you, how are you covering that extra harvest driver pay?

By not playing for the new harvester.

This is just the industry trying to move towards a "tractor as a service" model which allows them to continue charging regular fees and offset the feast/famine of only having large up-front sales cycles.

> Is there an alternative where they don't sign an equivalent TOS and still get the same features?

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.


Can you legally fix your car or your older tractor? Has that always been true? You can't legally fix these machines because the manufacturer says so. That's new(ish) and a power (money) grab.

This doesn't just prevent fixing - it prevents modification. If I want to change something about my car or motorcycle or tractor or airplane I should damn well be able to (assuming the modifications comply with all laws, which is not the issue here).

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.


> Can you legally fix your car or your older tractor? Has that always been true? You can't legally fix these machines because the manufacturer says so. That's new(ish) and a power (money) grab.

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.


I don't know about tractors, but there's nothing legally preventing you from fixing your car. The problem is technical: the diagnostic tools may only be available to authorized dealers/repairpeople.

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.


Hiring legal help and evaluating options doesn't matter when you don't have options.

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.


> I'm not sure why manufacturers are obligated to sell certain features without a TOS.

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.


But "grain farms in the Midwest" is actually is a lot of people. Statistically, soybean farmers have almost the same tonnage output as cattle in the US, and corn is 4x that - so those "grain farmers" are a significant chunk of US farming.

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.


Since you're here: where could good software help you run your cattle operation?

A cheap ear tag based tracking system that gives me real time locational awareness of where every cow in the herd is. Ideally low radiation, in other words not looking to put a GSM antenna on every animal

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!


Regarding tracking, I work for rural electric utilities, and we're looking at LoRaWAN for tracking. $30 chip, 15+ mile range in rural environments. Plus it's low power (can run for a year on a battery), and it should meet your low radiation requirement since it doesn't transmit often. Just food for thought.

Thanks for the heads-up! Do you know what the locational accuracy is?

I don't think anyone has used the LoRa radio signals for triangulating position, but GPS chips are getting really cheap now too. I've been playing around with a $40 GPS module[1] that claims a pretty standard 3 meter accuracy.

[1] https://www.adafruit.com/product/746


Just realized I meant ERP, not CRM. But maybe some CRM functionality for managing my CSA and things of that nature

A couple guys I went to high school with started a smart-ag business related to livestock tracking. Not sure how it relates to what you do, but seemed potentially related enough to pass along.

http://www.performancelivestockanalytics.com/


Thanks! This looks like a feedlot management tool; we graze cows through pasture and also hay the same fields, so our needs would be a bit different.

Thank you!

How large of an area would you need location tracking?


220 acres of pasture, contained by physical fencing (could be used to mount hardware but does not have 110VAC access). The pastures are interspersed within a larger area that also contains woods and swamps. The biggest pain point that good location tracking would solve for us would be the 6-8 calves we lose each year when they wander off and get hunted, killed and eaten by coyotes.

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.


Do you confirm them to grazing paddocks or are they open range on the 220?

Exactly—people need to know that there’s a spectrum of farmers, and they’re all very different. For instance, big commercial grain farmers like to convolute themselves with the family farmer when protesting laws that affect their bottom line. Things like proper buffering laws to preserve water quality aren’t going to affect anybody but the big conglomerates that want to abuse every square inch of their land for profit.

while every word you wrote is probably right, the point here is spotlighting of the latest (or not so, it's been going for while) trend that how big corporations try to take as much control as they can, only for the solely purpose of extorting as much money as they can.

[flagged]


That's a serious violation of the site guidelines. Would you please review them and stick to the rules when posting here?

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I'm curious to know who you think would have paid me?

PR firm for JD. Looked at your post history after I posted (should have before I posted). You're pretty active here. Sorry to have asked it.

"Only affects a few" is not a really good argument... just wait until they come for you...

They can come for me all they want, my tractors don't have advanced control systems and won't for the foreseeable future

I've got some family that run a dairy farm, similar scale to yours. I don't speak for them, but: They're getting older, and have trouble finding help with the labour: it's (obviously) in a rural area, which has been depopulating for decades. They can't get the high schoolers out during haying season nearly as easily as they used to do. They rely on 40 year old cousins come up for a weekend here and there to help load some bales/wrap some silage. Their farm will likely go one of two ways:

- 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?


The challenge of getting documented farm labor in rural areas is massive and we face that ourselves, and tractor software lock-in is neither a potential exacerbating factor nor a potential future solution to this problem. Not sure if I understand your question?

I'm picturing self-driving tractors as a labour-saver during the busiest time of year (haying). It would be a relatively simple technical problem to solve, and I could see manufacturers going for the market (and locking down the system at the same time - same as Tesla and Deere).

Automated anything for farms tends to work a lot better on plots of land that are large and flat as a pancake. I'm no autonomous vehicle expert but if you're haying irregularly shaped fields with topographical variation and ideosyncratic hazards (e.g., soft ground, ruts, random trees in fields, etc) then building an automated solution is a lot harder than an autopilot for a combine that works a bunch of perfectly flat, mile-by-mile plots in Nebraska.

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.


> building an automated solution is a lot harder than an autopilot for a combine that works a bunch of perfectly flat, mile-by-mile plots in Nebraska

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.

Definitely agree.


That was supposed to read small family farm, not small factory farm. Oops

> It would be a relatively simple technical problem to solve...

Philosophical aside: Has this statement ever actually been true?


I said that two or three times at work just today, where something technically trivial (set a Linux sysctl tunable or adjust some application parameter) would be at the end of a long bureaucratic adventure and difficult convincing of people who set those parameters incorrectly earlier, and thus would have to admit that they were wrong. :)

hey, I never said relative to what!

What are you going to do when you need to replace them and there are no such option available anymore? (that would be the time that they come for you) Anyways, enjoy it while you can.

Right, the point is I don't have or need the kind of tractors that this is affecting, so it's not really an "enjoy it while you can" type situation in my case

My point is that your kind of tractor won't exist anymore if you don't fight for the farmers that are affected now... The manufacturer will eventually upgrade their base model so that you will also get screwed.

This sounds like scare-mongering to me. It's like saying I need to worry that I won't be able to work on my own car pretty soon because I'm not fighting to make sure people can work on their Teslas (which are infamous for being impossible to work on without factory tools). Sorry, I don't buy it: these problems just don't exist on brand-new Japanese cars. Just because there's one manufacturer out there that sucks and abuses its customers doesn't mean they're all going to start doing that soon; there is such a thing as competition. Stop buying from the crappy manufacturer and then you won't have to complain so much.

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.



Here's another example: the political leadership in North Korea is really bad. There's huge human-rights violations there. I don't think I need to go into any great detail about just how awful North Korea is.

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?

No.


First they came for the guys who drive F-150s and I said nothing because I'm BOWTIE TILL I DIE

LOL tell me more about the market for tractors I'm all ears

grownups who can read

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.


If you are going to run a farm successfully you need to take personal responsibility for everything that does or doesn't happen on your farm and that definitely applies to the paperwork you sign on your farm's behalf.

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.


So why did they do it? Do they have no choice? Do Deere and chums have these people over a barrel? Is this some kind of captive market situation, in which farmers know they're being fucked over but have no choice and a union too weak to protect them?

They consciously choose to buy the tractors that has software with TOS because they perform much, much better for the grain harvesting use case. FWIW, there's undoubtedly some level of "the Deere salesman who was captain of my high school wrestling team when I was a sophomore on JV will be extra nice to me at the Elks Club if I buy the deluxe model" type dynamic going on in a lot of cases. Human factors exist in every rural community, and I'm sure many an unnecessarily fancy tractor has been sold over the years.

Easy way to tell if there is a gross power imbalance: do both parties have leverage to negotiate and modify the contract? Personally, I dislike when contracts function as unilateral laws issued by the powerful to further exploit those st a disadvantage.

Disclaimer: My father worked as an engineer for John Deere for 35 years. I interned at John Deere writing code that runs on the tractor controllers.

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.

zelon88 9 days ago [flagged]

> Engine horsepower, for example, can be increased by a software update.

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.


> Yeah, you don't sound like a shill or anything.

That breaks the site guidelines. Would you please review them and follow them when posting here?

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

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.


> your software

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.


:D Deere always takes a beating on this topic.

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?


Good catch, using the word 'subsidize' was probably a bit sloppy on my part. I don't know whether the base configurations are sold at a loss or not.

In a highly-competitive market I suspect that they would, but maybe not in a less-competitive market.


:D

These are all benefits for John Deere. I don't think anybody thinks there is no incentive for JD to do this.

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.


> These are all benefits for John Deere.

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


The market is small. And that means, pragmatically, a professional farmer in search of a combine might be caught between a couple of bad choices - but that doesn't mean they endorse the business practices.

The cost to JD to manufacture the tractor with lower horsepower limited by the software lockout is the same as it is to manufacture the tractor without the software governor. That's why it looks like a scam -- JD doesn't spend a dime to deliver the upgrade. They get paid for removing the artificial limits on the product.

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.


> The cost to JD to manufacture the tractor with lower horsepower limited by the software lockout is the same as it is to manufacture the tractor without the software governor. That's why it looks like a scam -- JD doesn't spend a dime to deliver the upgrade. They get paid for removing the artificial limits on the product.

> 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.


Whether DRM-based price discrimination "allows the manufacturer to sell the device at a lower price point" or allows the manufacturer to sell the device at a premium price point is the heart of the dispute. You can't know whether it's one or the other without modeling whether the contrapositive holds (i.e. if DRM then lower prices -> if not DRM then not lower prices), and doing that is extremely difficult.

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.


> Whether DRM-based price discrimination "allows the manufacturer to sell the device at a lower price point" or allows the manufacturer to sell the device at a premium price point is the heart of the dispute. You can't know whether it's one or the other without modeling whether the contrapositive hold

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.


There doesn't have to be a monopoly--competitiveness isn't binary. Intel doesn't have a monopoly in x86, and yet Intel uses firmware to cripple their chips (e.g. certain instruction sets disabled on low-end SKUs) while AMD doesn't. But does anybody really think that the x86 market is as competitive as, say, shampoo; or that Intel's price and product discrimination is resulting in lower prices at the low-end than would otherwise happen?

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.


Yeah -- it's the same thing, and I'd argue it's a scam. Companies are not losing money on the lower horsepower tractors or lower speed CPUs. So they are manufacturing a single product and artificially limiting it so it can be sold at a higher market value to remove the limits.

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.


> JD doesn't spend a dime to deliver the upgrade

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.


This is all sort of an argument about semantics. But the real heart of this argument is over who owns the tractor and whether it's acceptable for someone to limit what you can do with something they sell you.

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.


Correct, and they aren't losing money when they sell to consumers that don't need to full capabilities. Yet the tractor itself is already capable (and purchased -- or at least financed which amounts to legal ownership going to the consumer). They recoup their initial dimes in the base cost of the unit.

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.


It does have some advantage for the farmer, assuming tractors have a long life and their used resale value is much lower than their cost.

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 [1].

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.

[1] 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.


All of the advantages you list could be provided better without DRM from the viewpoint of the farmer, open standards and all that. The three point hitch is what made farm equipment investments a good destination of the money farmers had saved, not DRM.

> If I remember correctly each extra 50hp above the base costs ~10k

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.


> 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.


It likely costs 10k at an average. The point isn’t that it costs $0 to upgrade software. It is that Deere gives a lower price on high spec bc they under price the low spec. They get higher volumes on engine technology bc they use software to meet many customer’s power needs. If Deere made made a perfectly sized engine for every make and model with no software variation they would be idiots and have even higher priced machines. I have no love for the monopoly these companies have on the farmers of the world but the people against Deere here are drastically simplifying agriculture’s OEM business model.

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.


> the people against Deere here are drastically simplifying agriculture’s OEM business model

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.


Industry standard is $1000 per horsepower. Belarus tractors made in Minsk offer at least 30-40% less markdown after 120 HP. Available in Canada.

Why does there have to be a middle ground? Things seemed fine before all the DRM. And I'm not sure too many of your things actually REQUIRE DRM to be carried out. And as far as your warranty FUD, it's known in other fields that if you make an unapproved modification to an item, or have it done by someone else that it voids the warranty. This is a problem that's already been solved that you are trying to use to support the case for DRM.

I must have done a poor job at communicating if you think I was trying to support the case for DRM. My purpose was to help people understand where Deere is coming from and some of the details that the "John Deere Bad!" comments just don't capture.

> 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)


Sure seems to me Deere could implement an incremental state storage of some kind to get around the "flash it before fix it under warranty / annual maintenance" problem.

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.


Thanks for posting this. I'm generally biased against DRM as it tends to enable abusive business practices, but you've made some solid points I wish people engaged with better in the discussion.

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[0]. 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.

--

[0] - https://ansuz.sooke.bc.ca/entry/23


> Would they really go after Deere?

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[0]. 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.

Well said


Why are the tractors any different from cars? If I buy a car, I can do anything aftermarket to it I want. If the car is in warranty, those mods do not allow the manufacturer to not continue to support it (well established case law), and the EPA doesn't care once it's been sold (individual states like CA might have issue, but those are with the owner, not the manufacturer, if it's been modified).

This is all well-settled in the automotive world, why is JD 'different'?


Car manufacters is an interesting case.

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.


You are much more likely to call dealer/tech support for a tractor than you are for a car. It's the same reason enterprise software contracts are mainly just paying for support. If your business is on the line, you want it to work, and you want someone to fix it when it's not working.

Tractors are basically automated plant-production factories. They have tons of sensors and moving parts. If you want support from the people that made it, it's not unreasonable that they can dictate the terms of use in order to get that support.


> This is all well-settled in the automotive world, why is JD 'different'?

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.


Yes, actually, they do. The Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 applies to everything, not just cars, even though it was really aimed at cars. But it applies to anything consumers might buy, whether it's tractors or TVs.

Because car manufacturers keeping the systems 'open' was mandated legally in 1990 and 2012.

"Having the DRM in place allows Deere to reduce manufacturing expense and increase platform flexibility"

Sounds like it's right out of the sales brochure.


"Platform flexibility" is code for "charge extra for every feature". If you hear those words you know the "base" price they quote you is bullshit and they're going to nickle and dime you for every damn feature, like the steering wheel and brakes.

This is very true

> 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.

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.


Based on the way the comment was worded, it wasn't a power upgrade that was turned on/off based on a resistor being present or not. Adding the resistor changed how the engine thought it was running, which caused it to run in a way that produced more power, but not in a configuration that had been tested or approved for production use.

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.


Yes. All of this favors JD.

Well, believe it or not, corporations have rights, too. Sometimes it sucks, most of the time, it doesn't.

Down vote me all you like. According to law, corporations have rights.

I am for "right to repair" but one thing that has been left out of this narrative/discussion, in this article, and elsewhere is that when making payments there are insurance and/or warranty riders on these contracts when John Deere is providing the financing. They do this because they want the equipment repaired in a manner that meets JD's engineering specs. On the flip side I have seen certified JD mechanics, at a dealership, break off something as simple as the BlueDef/urea tank on a tractor because they didn't know how to fix it, forcing the tractor to remain in the shop while parts were reordered. In return they lent a similar tractor out at no charge because hay was already on the ground and rain was coming. This works well when the dealership is literally 6 miles down the road...not so good when its 60 or 160.

Sorry for being naive, I am not american. Can you tell, why those farmers aren't buying tractors from other companies? Those news always contain Deere name, I don't see similar critique against say Valtra or Belarus.

Because they can't. I was going at this to the parent post. What JD offers in addition to the warranty riders, is a logistics and service network that's INSANE. when you buy a big tractor/combine/machine you get white glove service. Tractor breaks in the field? A field tech will come out and fix it, quickly. Have a dumb question about the length and width of cutter heads? they'll answer it. When you only really have 2 weeks to harvest 1000s of acres this service network can not be under stated. This is what's really locking people in. The software is a contributing factor, but it's not why farmers buy green.

No they can. There are a lot of other brands with similar support like Fendt or Massey. The reason everyone gets JD machines is that for their specific purpose they’re generally the best barring a few niche markets like what Ventrac targets with their mowers.

> The reason everyone gets JD machines is that for their specific purpose they’re generally the best

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.


I got a chance to check out some of the cabs in the big machines.

Amazing! Yes, comfort. That just has to boost sales.


In the town that I grew up in, there was a family-owned farming implement dealership were you could buy farming equipment from a variety of manufacturers.

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.


They dominate the market in big tractors. New Holland probably sell close to as many units in the US (can't find good figures for this now), but John Deere have the bigger and more expensive ones and have 4x the revenue.

I'd guess farms and fields tend to be bigger in the US, making the economies of scale work in favour of bigger tractors.


John Deere tractors have held their value historically better than Kubota, Mahindra, New Holland, and Massey Ferguson. These are the main dealers in our area. I can't speak for the midwest.

One of the reasons they are holding their value is that nobody wants to buy the new ones and get screwed by this predatory DRM. It's a similar situation to the value of diesel pickup trucks the model year before certain emissions standards came into effect

Where I work (Portugal), John Deere tractors have been sold for decades and this year Kubota made a record comeback.

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.


In some areas of tech people only buy Intel. AMD might sell cheaper chips but people that place a premium on floating point performance, e.g. because they do 3D modelling, aren't going to be interested. Your gamer who has similar demands might go for price (so they can spend more money on games).

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.


> 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.


They're not readily available in the market.

It's been a long time since the bank foreclosed on my boyhood farming days, and I have been as far away from tractor news as possible ever since.

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...


"Tractor" is something of a loaded term, implying simplicity and so on. It sounds like some of the products JD makes today could be more accurately thought of as "Robot Tractors".

Robot tractors and harvesters the size of a house.

The dealers for those are even further away.

But if you can repair your own tractor, that should be less issue, compared situation where every trouble needs dealer help? I try to understand situation here: so Deere is being several years unsupportive for third party repairs and still best option? Why other tractor selling companies don't try to capture that market or why farmers don't cooperate to bring some other dealers in? For me seems like there are other initiatives (values in Deere) or this issue isn't big enough to make farmers (and other manufacturers) react.

My only concern about right to repair, is that it would make security significantly harder.

A user would need access to low level components, and this also means hackers.


I thought we'd have learned by now that security through obscurity is synonymous with "zero day vulnerability."

I agree with you but honestly "code" is synonymous with "zero day vulnerability"

I can't really imagine black hat hackers being a problem as long as local access was required for servicing.

They do trust their machines, and want them serviced the way they see fit.

But they also want to protect their business with lockout strategies.


Outside of the large corporate farms I think you are going to see an increase in farmers continuing to refurbish older tractors that are pre computers and then begin to retrofit those tractors with third party systems that won’t give them complete vendor lock in. A good example is Welker Farms. They run Big Bud tractors from the 70s refurbish them every decade or so. And have added in gps guidance and other things as 3rd party mods. Also they have a great YouTube channel[1].

1 https://www.youtube.com/WelkerFarmsInc?uid=tKUW8LJK2Ev8hUy9Z...


That's the thing. This big iron equipment doesn't just quit working and fall apart after a few years. It's expensive enough that you rebuild engines, weld up parts that break, redo seals in the transmission, etc, and keep it going for decades.

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.


Very cool. Thanks for sharing!

This is a HUGE problem. If John Deere were to go out of business tomorrow, a huge swath of our world's farmers would be unable to produce anything thanks to tractors turning off and not working properly. Remember that old game you like with online validation for single player mode? Remember how it stopped working when the servers went offline. There's a DMCA fair use exception to allow you to circumvent that DRM thanks to the EFF and the MADE, but there is no such fair use allowance for tractors....

If John Deere were to go out of business tomorrow, a huge swath of our world's farmers would be unable to produce anything thanks to tractors turning off and not working properly.

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.


But can you count on their tractor DRM servers not being DoS'ed, or hacked and taken down for an extended period?

Hmm. That would imply that it's not just a fairness problem or a copyright politics problem, but a national security problem.

The downside to computerizing & networking everything is the multitude of vulnerabilities you open.

There's that angle, yeah, but it's the creation of a single point of failure that I was thinking about. And not even in all that tech-centric a way.

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.


If left on the open internet and not an intranet.

All networks have vulnerabilities, regardless if they're connected to the internet.

But then it will not be a problem of business greed and stupidity... it will become a "national security threat", which will require more taxpayer money to solve, and of course may lead us closer to a war with whatever countries remain to be invaded by this immoral government. And "poor" JD will be just a victim of this vile threat "against us all".

I haven't seen anything indicating that the operation or repair process requires some sort of online authorization.

What if the server rack is in the farmers house and not connected to the internet? Deere could just send a regional technician as needed to patch or troubleshoot. They probably already send regional salesmen to farmers regularly, what's another seat in the car?

What if they got bought up by a hedge fund, raided, and sold for scrap?

And some models can simply lose support as they age, which is something just accelerates planned obsolescence.

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.


At some point in the near future won't many of the tractors be fully automated?

Perhaps, but "fully automated" does not mean that the machine has to be dependent on an outside service to operate.

Maybe. Or maybe they'll be just like regular tractors with a side module for your AI of choosing.

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.


> Maybe. Or maybe they'll be just like regular tractors with a side module for your AI of choosing.

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?


If you decide to spend thousands on a tractor with an AI sophisticated enough to do everything a regular human tractor driver does, but nothing other than that; and if once you buy that piece of equipment you've committed yourself with a service contract for rest of the equipment's life; then what you are doing is basically either handing over your business or something equivalent to hiring a human being for a 20+ year long contract that only does one job.

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.


What makes you think that John Deere would allow you to install any arbitrary AI module into their tractors?

People are already ditching John Deere for not letting them repair the tractors they own.

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.


It's surprising to me that these major equipment manufacturers have so much power over our economy and yet (as far as I'm aware) aren't required to earmark emergency funds for this kind of scenario. A bank that goes out of business doesn't just shut the lights off one day and leave customers to figure things out on their own. Each state and the federal government have funds set aside contributed by banks to fund continuing operations while customers navigate the transition. That doesn't seem unreasonable in this scenario either.

Several US politicians (Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper) are advocating for federal right to repair legislation for farmers.

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8xzqmp/bernie-sanders-cal...

As always, if this matters to you, get involved and vote.


Let’s hope they don’t make a law specifically for farmers. It should be the same for all goods.

You are right, but I am a bit concerned about self-driving cars.

In what way?

If someone was to add their own ...umm... improvements to the software, or perform shoddy repair work on the hardware for steering, then there would perhaps be negative effects.

That's no different than the current situation. I can do anything I want to my car, even if it kills me and the people in the car ahead of me. Like not fixing my brakes correctly, or driving without brakes altogether¹.

¹ Which I have actually done, carefully, on my way to the mechanic 20 miles away to get them fixed.


> I can do anything I want to my car, even if it kills me and the people in the car ahead of me.

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.


It is definitely illegal, but there's nothing stopping anyone from doing it. I'm not saying people should do that, just that they can and do, with little negative effects.

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.)


A broken killing machine that's 'intelligent' is a lot more scary than a broken killing machine that's dumb.

There's nothing possible for a self-driving car that isn't possible for a human operated car.

There's also nothing possible for a murderer that isn't possible for you or me, but I'd still be terrified about meeting one.

IMHO the manufacturers will come up with some type of safety certification for the software to run and part of that will be having a complete service history from authorized service centres. Self driving cars will be the end of self repair.

A lot of these risks apply to today’s cars already. If you change a tire and aren’t careful the wheel may come off later in traffic. I think there is way too much downside to companies maintaining tight control after selling something. Otherwise we are slowly converting the concept of “owning” to “renting”. This is pretty much the dream of capitalists. They own and rent things out to others.

Sure, but these risks are well understood and the owner tends to take special care if they do something. Would that be true of an auto-driver? Maybe.

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 would have suspected that the US and other countries had old laws that could dusted off and take over JD if it was impacting Critical infrastructure.

I think I prefer right-to-repair laws compared to a government takeover of John Deere.

The US isn't old enough to have old laws.

That's why many states expressly import the common law from Old Blighty as they existed on independence day, Louisiana's civilian law preferences excepted. My own state's example discussed at https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/About-the-Court/History-...

Yes, if a dominant player disappears it will result in chaos. This is not unique to agriculture, imagine Boeing disappearing. Or Amazon (see ya later AWS!). The thing is big companies don't really disappear. They might go bankrupt, but even then the valuable bits will continue to be valuable and run by new management.

If the reality is as you describe it then John Deere is effectively a government entity now, there is no way the feds/state would actually allow them to collapse and all those fields to die off. If you work at or buy John Deere products you're just living on the taxpayer dime, call it what it is.

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.


> really really stupid

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.


> > really really stupid

> 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?


You would think tractor usability would be of far greater importance compared to game availability!

Is it the case that if the servers are down/unreachable the tractor will refuse to start, or simply that the automation features will fail? In the latter case you have to go back to the old system of having a human behind the wheel directing the machine. Most of the time that is the farmer, his family, and some hired help on really big farms. Food prices go up due to increased wages, but it's not a catastrophic food shortage as grain rots in the fields.

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.


Is this true or theoretical? In many rural areas cell reception is not good.

Turns out farmers really like their WiFi because driving around in a tractor all day is really boring without some entertainment.

That's the truth. Give a tractor wifi and you will soon see a farmer riding with Netflix.

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.


For many years now my grandfather has read ebooks from the cab of his tractor. He puts his sony ereader in a ziplock bag to protect it from the dust and reads a few pages each row.

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.


I recently got to set up a hunter’s tree stand in the middle of the woods with a directional waveguide WiFi “cantenna” link to their house... because Netflix.

I've watched a German tractor driver on Twitch livestreaming before. It was surreal.

There's a whole genre of youtube channels of farmers explaining what they do and how their tractors work. As a city dweller I find them pretty interesting.

Any favorite examples to link? Sounds interesting.


I saw an article today about how farmers are streaming Netflix while running their JD tractors. PR piece for sure. Bread and Circus. Smoke and mirrors.

I know there isn't exactly much to hit around there but I am still surprised that sort of distracted operation is safe - beyond say Pandora or podcasts.

Tractors usually move at a deliberately very slow speed, so piloting a vehicle moving 3mph over terrain utterly devoid of obstacles, and which often has some kind of automatic driving assist, is really not that hard.

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.


I don't think any can be officially piloted remotely, but clever farmers have done this.

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.)


Yeah, except that if they were to start failing and needed a bailout, you can bet that would fall on the farmers, because they have enough of a stranglehold on the business that it would be their only option.

If they went out of business, you could buy and install third party boards.

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.


It's not that simple when everything runs on software including cylinder firing and timing.

There are companies that will sell you an entire diesel-electric hybrid drivetrain to retrofit into old tractors, and autosteer systems to go with it. It is not cheap though.

Where did I imply it was simple?

Writing a controller is a non trivial task. But it can be done.


We are absolutely no where near this reality for some industries, and sadly may never be. See how fervently Apple is fighting consumers being able to repair their devices.

John Deere will never go out of business in the manner you suppose. Worst case is restructuring through bankruptcy.

Yeah and Lehman Brothers are too big to fail... Oh.

They would just switch to e.g. CNH tractors. I don't see the problem.

Yeah, this is kind of faux outrage. John Deere doesn't even have near the monopoly that GP is eluding to.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Tractor_manufacturers...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tractor_manufacturers


JD has a monopoly on repairing John Deere tractors and their electronics.

And JD does _not_ have a monopoly on the tractor market as GP was claiming in their nightmare hypothetical.

These are two different things.


The issue would be in transitioning to any alternative. Equipment is super expensive - and tractors are wayyy expensive, especially if you're a small-scale farmer with only two or three of them. Plus, if your equipment quits working, farmers would have a hard time selling beyond salvage value and would have no way to make more money (aside from existing inventory) to buy new equipment.

> would have no way to make more money (aside from existing inventory) to buy new equipment.

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.


Very true. Certainly, this can be the case, but even small farms have overhead where a loan can create instability.

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.


It sounds like something insurance should be addressing. If insurers covered such industry-wide machinery failures in a DRM-ridden automated world, they would be incentivized to fight on the farmer's behalf in preventing the outcome.

Pro-tip: "there's lots of variables that can be in play, adding unexpected debt can only increase that." -- this explains everyone's finances, at least those of us that work for a living.

The problem isn't really that the tractor breaks down and becomes scrap metal. The problem is that if the tractor breaks down during harvest, you will lose a lot of produce during the week or two it takes to repair the tractor. A better solution would probably be to force JD to provide farmers with a replacement tractor within 24 hours for free until the broken tractor has been fixed.

International Harvester is the biggest selling tractor company ..more so than JD ..in the US. But JD has an international reach. And they are very cosy with Monsanto(now Bayer). They wanted to buy Monsanto’s Climate Corp before Bayer deal but DoJ said No and killed it.

Surely some party would come in and fill the gap, reverse engineer the thing, whatever is necessary. Food security is a national security priority for the United States. We wouldn't go hungry if John Deere went under instantly. There would be a response.

I'm not even sure it would reach the level of the federal government having to intervene. I imagine it would be more like:

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.


That's the "Is there an adult in the room" plan.

That is certainly the hope. What is the plan?

People are already hacking JD equipment with firmware found online. I don't have an exact answer to your question, but this thread seems over-blown. Somebody will know how it works, or learn how to work on it. I trust the ingenuity of this nation wouldn't leave us with an unmaintainable or unhackable tractors without "John Deere" the business existing, in the same way the technique for jailbreaking the latest version of iOS comes relatively quickly. The country that went to the moon can reverse engineer a tractor. It's not like we need to prove P = NP or not to start getting people fed again, to fix the problem.

I personally agree the problem's being overblown here, and I agree with what you say about technology like that, but, just to counter a bit, when it comes to agriculture, time's not always available. Depending on when that theoretical stopping of Deere's servers were to occur. There could be massive crop failures. It's all well and good to get everything back up again, but by this time a loaf of bread costs $50 and everyone's flipping their shit.

Not that I think any of this is ever likely to happen, but even small disruptions to the food supply can have large consequences.


I would be surprised if there weren’t several Chinese companies trying.

It would be really funny if one was Huawei.


Don't other countries have their own tractor makers?

The biggest european tractor are case new holland (cnh) and claas.

Then there are other in eastern europe and china, but not available in europe


I know Italy has Lamborghini. Put that sticker on the back of your work truck: "My other vehicle is a Lambo."

The story how they came to producing sports cars is a fun one.


Most interesting: "Ferruccio Lamborghini confessed that he never actually invented anything, rather, would simply copy and try to improve on others’ work." Nothing to confess, in my view, but be proud of - he certainly created something unique out of it.

The real problem I see for modestly sized farms's is they are massively underserved by modern tractors. They are over complicated and over priced. Most of the farmers I know still use tractors from the 1950s-1970s as their primary workhorses because they're simple and reliable. No one builds tractors like that anymore, in part due to the shrinking demands and in part due to regulation.

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.


>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.


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