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For tech-weary Midwest farmers, 40-year-old tractors now a hot commodity (startribune.com)
701 points by sbuccini 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 493 comments



My grandfather, rest his soul, was a 3rd generation rancher and farmer. He bought 2 John Deere tractors in the '80s and used them for 35 years. They are still being used to this day on the ranch.

Growing up, I visited the ranch regularly. Farming and ranching is very hard on equipment so the tractors often needed repair. My father and grandfather could seemingly fix anything on the tractor without even needing to go to the parts store. (The closest one was a 1 hour drive). Without this capability my family never would have been able to make a living of any kind with their land.

In 2020 farmland is being gobbled up by corporations. The family farmer is going extinct. That means tractor companies are getting a whole new customer who is nothing like the previous. Corporations want tractors as a service, they want them to be self-driving, and they want to manage them in bulk. They don't really care if they can repair them because they pay someone else to do it.

Personally, it is sad to see this change since so much of my family history and memories are tied up in the way things used to be. I sometimes feel out of place in my family because I couldn't fix a single thing on a tractor. On the other hand my grandfather didn't touch a computer in his entire life.

The world changes and sometimes it sucks but that is how progress is made.


You need a way to reconcile the family side of things and the corporate side. It may be sad to lose the personal touch of a single owner single farm (I always say you know it's corporate when the owner doesn't personally sign off each birthday present) but one should also see the value of a business becoming a company.

One important thing is that a healthy business will survive any particular person's death. And this is very important especially for a family business. Imagine a farmer suddenly passing away in his 40s or 50s with 5 children and no other adult that can take over the business. (This actually happened in my family, but luckily his wife was a badass and saved the farm during a difficult period when other farms were going out of business.)

Another advantage of a business as opposed to a single owner is that the rest of the family is afforded a niche. In my case, I can do scientific analysis, mathematics, music and lots of other things and at the same time I don't have the burden that my grandfather had when he had to run the then very poor and tiny farm at the age of 16.

With regards to the loss of character and the loss of the idyllic romantic image of a farm with its owner: It will happen to a smaller or larger extent and it's really a challenge to figure out how to retain the initial pioneer spirit of a farm.

In my case, I decided to prolong the legacy of those before me by focusing on what I can do that they couldn't. I have quite a few useful innovations that I am working on in weather and agricultural analysis. But it's difficult, and maybe I won't achieve much, but I feel the only way to personalise a corporate business is to be a sort of wild man with an orderly style in an orderly society. I think that kind of economic freedom was what those before us worked hard to gain.

Maybe birthdays will be generic, but it's easier to give a profitable business a personal flair than to make a personal business profitable.


I don't see why the two should be at odds when it comes to how tractors should be designed. I feel like tractors that can be repaired on-site by your own employees is a far better deal than being 100% reliant on the manufacturer's good grace.


It IS a far better deal. Farmers should try only buying those, instead of throwing their money at a company that abuses them. The problem is that many farmers absolutely insist on buying only from John Deere, and then they complain about Deere's terrible policies and unrepairability. It reminds me of Apple customers who complain about their MacBooks not having normal USB ports or their iPhones being so locked-down. There are competitors out there...


I am not a farmer, I fix sewing machines- but I see people still buy Singers, based on brand perceptions that are 50 years out of date. Modern Singer sewing machines are cheap garbage, but people remember their grandmothers or great grandmothers using these old, reliable machines, and accordingly, they buy Singer.

Same thing is happening with John Deere. It may take a very long time for the anti-consumer actions of the company to burn through decades of goodwill.


Would you recommend Bernina sewing machines? I've been doing some leather work and am considering to make machine stiched items too.

PS: WRT John Deere, our family business bought quite a few of them and when they refused to train our own workshop employees we sold all of them! The whole thing kind of amused me. Unless you are from the Free State, Massey Ferguson is pretty much your best option. And if you need something with more ploughing power, Landini is doing pretty well too. Actually, I think Italy is in a unique position at the moment to (if they actually wanted to) to grow quite a bit economically with some of their brands.


Unfortunately, farmer's don't have this choice -- there are no real good actors in the industry. Competitors like Rostelmash, New Holland, and CLAAS have all used the rise of software-enabled ag equipment as a way to monopolize repair. The article describes how farmers are being driven to buy 40 year-old tractors not because they are Deeres. It's because they can't fix the machines themselves.


Well said, thanks for your contribution.


> You need a way to reconcile the family side of things and the corporate side

I believe that's called share cropping..


I come from at least three generations of cattle farmers. My dad had to work a tool and die job, because unlike his father, it was already not possible to raise a family via family farm.

It's really brutal.


I actually think the trend is starting to reverse. At least in the area where I live in Ashland, OR where I have a 10-acre farm.

What I'm seeing is products are becoming more and more niche. Kind of like how craft beers became a thing. I think it's easier than ever for a farm to create specialized products and sell them directly to consumers. Before this way of ecommerce tools, it was nearly impossible for a small farm to sell without a broker or distributor or wholesaler. These people consolidated to give pricing power ie Tyson Foods which then forces farms to consolidate in this race to the bottom.

By eliminating middlemen, direct to consumer sales is better for the consumer. It's cheaper and products are better and more specific. In my industry distributors want to make 15% and retailers want 40%. Paying for the shipping is almost always cheaper than buying it in a store. You'll also generally get better products.

Really the only reason to buy from a store is convenience.


50% of farms make no farm income. 40% rely on external income.

https://www.ers.usda.gov/media/10292/farm-household-income-i...


A better question is how difficult is it to make a living farming? Instead of commercial vs residential farm %s.


I hope it works out for you! My dad didn’t live to see these changes, unfortunately, so my family farm is now gone.


In the short or medium term, do you think going niche can be a viable family business 2.0? Has it been challenging having to manage the customer side of things?


Your soul source of income is from a 10 acre farm?


No. I made a hemp business called Plain Jane (https://tryplainjane.com). We started living on someone else's family hemp farm and selling their hemp. We then started sourcing from other family farms in the area and got our own manufacturing facility. We now source from 12+ family farms. For many of them, growing hemp is their sole income.

We started our own farm a few months ago to meet the increasing demand. In general, this is how I see it playing out in rural areas. Brands will be able to start in rural areas and then sell direct to consumer while sourcing locally. I know a winery and a smoked meats company that operate similarly in my county.


yes but how do you find these niche products if you are not in the fine dining industry?


> The world changes and sometimes it sucks but that is how progress is made.

Progress for whom? Seems like a false dichotomy to me.


I share your sentiment. In the case of farming is not so much progress as regress, at least in many cases.

For example, in Europe farmers can get the money from the EU, but only if they use certain seeds. So basically there are a couple of crops to choose from that get repeated year by year. What happens to the soil is a great disaseter. Obviusly nobody can use more natural kinds of fertilizers these days and the food gradually loses its nutrient value. The farmers are happy about announcing their bio certification but very few actually care about what happens to the soil. A similar "optimization" is being done with animal farming. It's disgusting and very far from actual progress.


Can you clarify the money for use of certain seeds bit? I'm quite interested in EU affairs and hadn't heard of this. I'd expect something that wouldn't give money for certain seeds but this seems like that turned around.


Frankly, I was very suprised to hear this, too. I visited a rural family last year and we had a short chat about this. I had expected the subsidies are for machines etc., but influencing the choice of crops in this way seems really misguided. Whoever created this had good intentions, but the results are lamentable. (The family in question still have a large portion of land they cultivate in a more natural way, alternating the crops properly etc.)


Yeah, EU farm subsidies are problematic but they're also notoriously mis-reported, so this needs proper citation.



We should clarify the notion of progress. Technological advances are not necessarily progress. Progress imho is something that benefits the whole humanity without harming irremediably nature. But I have the impression that each one has its own definition.


I speculate that as corporations take over farming, their operations become more efficient providing greater yields per acre and for the amount of fuel consumed.

If true, this is net positive for humanity as a whole as more people can get fed and there are less carbon emissions doing so.

There is the problem that corporations tend to trend toward becoming sociopathic entities unless carefully managed, so it's not all win.


> there are less carbon emissions doing so.

Intensive farming as practiced by corporations today is among the worst culprits regarding carbon emissions.

It is more profitable to practice intensive till-heavy farming since it takes advantage of the nutrients already stored in the soil. The disadvantage is its unsustainability. After few decades of soil-tilling, it becomes quite poor in nutrients, and will have reduced yield. Corporations can afford to destroy land and move on to the next one, until nothing is left.

This is opposed to regenerative/conservative agriculture.

https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/food/regenerative-agricul...

https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/food/conservation-agricul...


> Intensive farming as practiced by corporations today is among the worst culprits regarding carbon emissions.

Relative to what? What are the CO2 emissions per bushel of grain for the practices you've described?

My point about reduced carbon emissions is specific to corporate farms using modern equipment which is more precise, thanks to auto-guidance via GPS, more efficient, as a result of the diesel engines being more modern and also as a result of other technologies that allow the tractors to have larger implements, travel faster, and consume less horsepower and finally lower emissions as a result of being compliant with more recent emissions standards.



This is fascinating, but also somewhat orthogonal to the argument, assuming there was nothing I missed when skimming that paper.

The paper itself describes farming practices that are more sustainable, and possibly more efficient after introducing a new formula to measure efficiency. I'm not sufficiently well-informed to critically assess the formula given, although on the surface it seems fine.

To clarify my original assertion, modern farming equipment with the latest technology as employed by corporate farms increase the efficiency of industrial farming methods vs. farming equipment being used that's 30-40 years old.

There are a few common metrics that I use to base my assertion on, that is gallons of fuel used per cultivated acre, as well as yield per acre. From those, one can derive yield per gallon of fuel and subsequently carbon emissions as a result.

I'm not suggesting that represents a lifecycle analysis of the entire crop, but I think it's still sufficient to evaluate the impact of modern equipment vs. aging equipment.


For the most part I just thought it was interesting.

You asked in relation to what modern farming is among the worst culprits regarding carbon emissions. I suppose that merits a comparison to other know ways to grow food? Most of the crops "we" grow use to grow just fine on their own. We've cultivated them to be dependent. It doesn't seem unreasonable to think we can cut carbon emissions beyond 100% (eventually)

To add a funny: We wont optimize the Nodejs to the point it changes into ERLANG. It takes a whole new approach.


I agree that the comparison deserves merit, but it's a lengthy discussion. I'd presented a simple dichotomy.

> ...use to grow just fine on their own. We've cultivated them to be dependent. It doesn't seem unreasonable to think we can cut carbon emissions beyond 100% (eventually)

There are a couple of constraints there. We have a limited amount of arable land to feed the world's population and a significant amount of the carbon emissions in modern farming practices comes from harvesting and transport.

I can't see any way to harvest and transport agriculture products without carbon emissions today.


We could eat where it grows and grow where we eat :).. Back to the trees!...or wait... LEDs are pretty epic already, I could see myself grow salad in the cup board. Then there is the Personal Food Computer for more advanced stuff (back on familiar soil?) https://www.media.mit.edu/projects/personal-food-computer/ov...

I like how hn always finds a way to blame everything on programmers. Who would have thought carbon emissions are our fault? (I hope its to blame on my silly mood)


You could grow salad in the cupboard. Lettuce is one of the few crops that would be economical to grow under indoor lighting. I believe that info comes from here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsaufB5F8dk

If you think LEDs have gotten epic, check out his research. They're just getting to be more efficient than HPS.


> What are the CO2 emissions per bushel of grain for the practices you've described?

Just to clarify, because it is important. My point is that emissions from land transformation due to unsustainable farming practices dwarf any efficiency due to modern diesel engines etc.

cf. the links in my parent post: a well-regenerated soil can contain up to 25 to 60 tons of carbon per acre.


I'm not disagreeing that different farming practices may be more sustainable. My argument is that existing farming practices are made more efficient and produce fewer emissions when using modern equipment vs. equipment that is 30-40 years old.

There is plenty of research to support your point, also another poster replied to this parent with an interesting paper. My assertion is supported by direct observation, that is, if we constrain ourselves to current industrial farming practices, there's plenty of data showing improved yields and reduced fuel consumption as more modern equipment is adopted.

I guess my point is that I don't see our relative assertions being in conflict.


Let me use an analogy. If you are going to cut down a forest, I don't care that you're doing with a modern solar-powered and drone-controlled circular saw or a petrol-powered chainsaw. There is a more important problem that is dwarfing any improvement in the efficiency used by your tools, and that's all those trees getting cut down.

> there's plenty of data showing improved yields and reduced fuel consumption as more modern equipment is adopted.

I absolutely agree with this. My only concern is with relating this to CO2 emissions and the fight against climate change. It is a deceptive argument, since it was not a goal to begin with.

I made a back-of-napkin calculation. I'm not an expert, so please bear with my poor estimates.

  Say a tractor burns ~1kg CO2/km (high estimate) while tilling a 4m-long piece of land.

  1 Acre = 4m * 1km

  The tractor will emit 1kg of CO2 for every pass. 

  If repurposed, the land will be able to store 25 to 50 tonnes of carbon (equivalent to 10-20t of CO2).
Even if I made mistakes above, there are 3 or 4 orders of magnitude between the two. Any savings that could be made on the tractor's emissions are minuscule.


Tilling consumes 2-2.5 gallons of diesel per acre, that results in ~20-25kg of CO2 emitted per acre (~10kg per gallon of diesel).

> If repurposed, the land will be able to store 25 to 50 tonnes of carbon (equivalent to 10-20t of CO2).

Repurposed how? We still have to figure out how to feed 11 billion people. Am I missing something from your argument?


Repurposed to use more modern AND sustainable agriculture techniques (regenerative agriculture, permaculture, conservative agriculture, ...). You certainly have heard of some of those.

As for how we will feed 11 billion people by the end of the century. This is a very reasonable question to ask. Sustainable agriculture has reduced yields, so maybe we wouldn't have enough to feed the world anymore. But, again, you are looking at the wrong culprit.

There is already more than enough food to feed the world. Food waste, food distribution problems and our questionable appetite for meat are dragging us down.

The problem of world hunger is NOT a "global food production limit" problem. Of course, we shouldn't ship food from the USA to Africa, though. But the phosphate imported from Western Sahara for our fertilizers? Maybe they could use that, to kick-start an agricultural revolution.

Although, if your question was "how to feed 11 billion people without changing anything to our current food industry", the answer is we won't, since we have established that the traditional methods are unsustainable. People will die, either from hunger or from climate-related catastrophes.


> Repurposed to use more modern AND sustainable agriculture techniques

This answers my question. I was wondering if you were suggesting that arable land be repurposed for carbon capture rather than food production, thus the question, how to feed 11 billion people (projected peak world population).

In any case, I think we're making arguments in slightly different directions. Surely, there are more sustainable farming approaches such as no-till, etc, which saves the CO2 emissions.

Let's presume we've use those approaches and have a field full of corn (or wheat, or what have you) ready to harvest with zero carbon emissions and slightly reduced yield. Then what?

That corn still needs to be harvested at 3.8 gallons of diesel per acre and then transported to market.

> questionable appetite for meat

As most other countries, especially developing ones consume way less meat, this is a US specific problem, though admittedly it makes a significant contribution to greenhouse gasses.

> The problem of world hunger is NOT a "global food production limit" problem

The basis of my arguments has less to do with world hunger as a problem that exists today and more to do with the fact that peak global population is estimated to be 11 billion folks. Feeding that population will be difficult to do with yields well below current industrial farming practices.

> we won't, since we have established that the traditional methods are unsustainable. People will die, either from hunger or from climate-related catastrophes.

We should hit ~10 billion by 2050, I doubt there'll be massive climate change related catastrophes by then. 11 billion is projected by 2100, and well, unless something changes then we likely would.

In any case, thanks for engaging in this discourse. Likely, we agree more than not that more sustainable agriculture practices will be needed.


I'm not sure whether or not corporate farming leads to less emissions, but the environmental impact should not be the only factor evaluated for whether or not corporate farming consolidation is good for humanity. What may be lost in efficiency is gained in good jobs for middle class people to make a living.

If we're talking large scale change for the environment, why not electrify farm equipment, expand our solar and wind capacity to meet the demand, and allow for small farmers to still carve out a solid living and make the Heartland a place with thriving communities?


I'm not suggesting that corporate farming consolidation is good for humanity. I'm suggesting that there is a benefit to using modern farming equipment.

Fundamentally, I believe that corporate farming consolidation is a risk to the global food supply. ADM is proof of how terrible that can be.


Tractor as a service will only bite them back.

Look at how popular 40-year old tractors are :)

It's never been a better time to create a good old repairable machine.


They all want to get to the point of being Tesla. Hiding features only in software, pushing out updates, and trying to bake in a living (recurring revenue) model.

It's a problem for a lot of reasons. First off it's the complete death of ownership. I can't fix things. At some point they will probably just lock stuff back down if I want to sell, assuming I can even sell without them getting a cut.

Second, repairability takes a nosedive. It's no longer a tough but simple piece of machinery that I can maintain indefinitely with some mostly fairly easy to teach skills. I'm an amateur, but I know enough about how cars work that I'm willing to try and fix most issues, up to the point of needing specialized tooling. Instead it's a world of more expensive parts, DRM, and things that just won't work without a dealer authorized repair.

Then we get to the part where I come off an old fuddy duddy. I don't want a car where someone can push safety critical changes the way we push shitty software updates now. I don't trust them to get it right. I don't want to be sold a car that tries to kill me after a mandatory software update. It's not needed, and it's a bad idea.


Stated another way, every company has discovered 'rent-seeking' in a relatively short period of time and they all think it's neat.

Consumers haven't pushed back enough to stop this from happening.


nice thought, I had to look it up again:

The classic example of rent-seeking, according to Robert Shiller, is that of a feudal lord who installs a chain across a river that flows through his land and then hires a collector to charge passing boats a fee to lower the chain. There is nothing productive about the chain or the collector. The lord has made no improvements to the river and is not adding value in any way, directly or indirectly, except for himself. All he is doing is finding a way to make money from something that used to be free.[4]


I see the sentiment though that lead people to use that term.

The 'river' that manufacturers are putting a chain across is the First Sale Doctrine.

It's just rent-seeking wearing a mask. In a similar sense that the legal difference between a pyramid scheme and an MLM scheme is that the MLM scheme is accompanied by a good or service. Legally legitimate, but still morally objectionable.


The end state is consumers buying less stuff, but only those most willing to pay the premium will show up.


Well I'm designing a solar powered farming machine we hope we can make open source. A bunch of the parts can be printed on a $1000 printer. I hate proprietary technology, and I think our entire economy should consist of open/libre technology.

It definitely feels like "big business" is working against us in this regard. Everything new is locked down because the the rent-seeking those software locks enable. It's a drag on our economy and we've got to stop letting them do this to us.


Do you have any idea how the Global Village Construction Set folks are doing? Or any other similar projects in the space?

I stumbled across open source ag / construction efforts years ago, but haven't kept tabs on them since.

And thanks for spending your time on something so useful to society!


I don’t know how those folks are doing. I’ve seen that farmbot just released new products though. Last I checked farmbot did open source right.

And thanks for the kind words! I have been pretty sick of working jobs that don’t broadly benefit society. I’m blessed to be working at a beautiful farm on open source tech!


Last I checked, about a year ago, they were still developing, albeit producing documentation at a pretty slow rate.

I think they are still iterating a fair bit on the micro tractor. But overall it seems there was a flurry of activity around 2014 but then it has tapered off.

IMHO, I think they set their sights a bit too high, with the whole construction set. Would have been better to focus on just the tractor first, getting the documentation really hammered out. It is such an essential piece of farm equipment. But as it stands, nothing on their wiki is really viable to contribute to, because you can't really work off of it.


Open source ecology has yearly meetings and projects. There is also have a slack group, iirc.


This is how MBAs farm


> I can't fix things.

This one sticks out to me from a job-market POV.

Plumbers are already on par with psychiatrists in terms of pay. Sure, the work is hard, but from a supply-demand POV, the markets are saying that they do work that is of equal value (all this varies highly, but stick with me here).

Most repair work takes a LOT of experience until the employee is anywhere near proficient. Farmers will tell you that they learned the repair side in very stressful situations and that there is always something that breaks in new, and more expensive, ways each and every time. Repairing even 'simple' machines like a tractor takes a lot of experience.

So, when you add in a computer that intentionally 'breaks' the machine, and then you have the regular machine that will break, and then you have all the linkages that make the computer control the machine (all of which can break), you are requiring that the repair-person be VERY skilled at troubleshooting and repair.

Then, you eliminate most of the ways that people learn to troubleshoot and repair these machines (via these computers), and you are left with even fewer people that will be able to fix the tractors. Think something more like a bio-tech/MRI company's field-service engineers. Those people get paid bank to get sent out to malfunctioning machines and they are trained out the wazoo.

From the tractor manufacturer's perspective, yes, making machines that work for the manufacturer and not the customer, is going to really work out well for this quarter's stock price. But down the road 7 years? I think this is a poison pill.


Quick look at usnews suggests median plumber (in US) makes ~50k and median psychiatrist makes ~200k. I'm sure there are some plumbers that make more than some psychiatrists, but that doesn't really support the assertion that the market values their skills equally.


I think it depends a lot on the local market.

It's also a little misleading to compare the numbers that way. It usually takes a lot longer to become a psychiatrist in the first place. Your cumulative earnings in the first ten years after graduating high school might be higher as a plumber; in fact, I suspect most people who become doctors actually lose net worth throughout those ten years due to student loans. They just don't count towards the median income for a psychiatrist because they spend much more time not being a psychiatrist.

Once the plumber and psychiatrist are both in a position where they're running their own business or practice, their income is more of a conscious choice than it is for someone who's working for an employer. Self-employed people can and do sometimes choose to earn less money in exchange for more free time, and it's a lot easier to do that when you don't have six figures of debt at the start of your career.


Having worked in plumbing for a while, I can say that anyone who's got their arms in right places and a bit of flair for entrepreneurship can make pretty good money in this field. There's so much work is unbelievable and most of it isn't that hard to do. Also, the hours are decent. Psychiatrists,on the other hand,while on higher income, have to deal with some very challenging and sometimes dark personalities who tend to drain you.It can be very demanding.


Yea, I would rather deal with peoples physical shit than their mental shit


Do you have a source for plumbers being on par with psychiatrists? I have friends in the trades (back in Australia) and my impression is that their pay isn't as high as is commonly believed.


The Bureau of Labor statistics provides this information.

Plumber median pay is $54,000, while 10% make more than $94,000.

Psychiatrist median pay is $220,000, while 10% make beyond the wage cap for BLS data. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291066.htm


Going to need a source, as well. Whenever these statistics are trotted out, they use figures from a few standard deviations to the right of the mean income, where the trades-person is usually self-employed at their own business that employs many others.


The point was not to talk about plumbers, it was to reference the meme, so as to remind/give the reader a baseline idea that manual labor is not valued as the work itself, but the supply/demand.


it's just like anything else. you need to be self employed and own a business that you've scaled out to earn the big money.


We just need to put more effort into hacking the onboard computers. I’m sure we all remember the mod chips that gained popularity over the last couple decades.

If the market demands it, which with the advent of computers on tractors platform this can and will be modified to allow for the maximum utility for the end user. I see nothing wrong with this.


I wonder about the cost and practicality of producing kits that fully replace the electronics for various popular tractor models. There would be no need to hack anything; you could use any desired computer architecture.


> I don't want a car where someone can push safety critical changes the way we push shitty software updates now. I don't trust them to get it right. I don't want to be sold a car that tries to kill me after a mandatory software update. It's not needed, and it's a bad idea.

I don't want a bridge where someone can make repairs the way we make shitty pothole repairs now. I don't trust them to get it right. I don't want to pay taxes for a bridge that tries to kill me after mandatory repairs. It's not needed, and it's a bad idea. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-35W_Mississippi_River_bridge

Here's a neat idea: maybe regulating software engineering like other engineering disciplines is actually overdue? Yet at the same time, failure rate will never be zero.

Alternatively, we should renounce all engineering regulations and let anybody with a rivet gun build bridges. and airplanes.


You may have some good points, but when you quote someone word for word, substituting your own words for some of theirs, you are twisting their words and putting words in their mouth, in essence ridiculing them. That rarely leads to a civil discussion that other people can learn from.

I realize that this kind of misquoting is a traditional "hacker" style of debate. But speaking only for myself, it really rubs me the wrong way.

If you disagree with someone, don't resort to cheap shots like that. Make your point in your own words and with your own logic. You will have a stronger argument and a better chance of informing and educating the rest of us.


> Here's a neat idea: maybe regulating software engineering like other engineering disciplines is actually overdue? Yet at the same time, failure rate will never be zero.

Please could you describe this more? I’m intrigued.

I don’t know anything about this and what systems or mechanisms are used to regulate engineering, so any links or simple explanations are appreciated!


Overview of professional engineer process: https://www.nspe.org/resources/licensure/what-pe . It varies from place to place (although transferrable from country to country via the Washington Accord https://www.ieagreements.org/accords/washington/).

If you want to e.g. build a bridge it needs to be signed off on by an appropriately licensed and qualified Professional Engineer. Essentially the parent comment is saying there should be streams of software development that meet the requirements to become a Professional Engineer. Then places e.g. medical, defence, power plants could say "we need software that's been signed off by an engineer" and have assurance that the final product is of a known quality and unlikely to have any life and safety endangering defects. They are strongly incentivised to only sign off on properly engineered projects as they can be held personally liable e.g. if a bridge fails and kills someone.

An example of the level of quality that would be delivered is the software that ran on the space shuttle. See this article https://www.fastcompany.com/28121/they-write-right-stuff for an insight into how it was developed and the practises required.

I don't think all software developers should be software Engineers, but being able to lead a team to enforce quality (and not sign off on poorly thought out "MVP" crapware) would guarantee that the software that came out of that team would be reliable and well designed. It would be good for software engineering overall to be recognised as a legitimate branch of engineering. Unfortunately it seems like most of the industry does not have the sort of rigour needed for engineering tasks.


Thanks a lot!


> It would be good for software engineering overall to be recognised as a legitimate branch of engineering.

I think the only way this could happen would be if SWE only used waterfall or some similar kind of practice. Agile and the like might be able to be tweaked to work, but even there...

The problem in software is that you can basically "start in the middle" of something and work your way outward; start coding something, get the design details later and refactor.

You can't do that with a bridge or other regular engineering work. You have to plan, design, multiple sign-offs, etc - then build, and you can't build it randomly or a component here and there then fit it all together (well, you can to an extent, depending on the project and design), and if anything changes - well, in a real project it can't change much, not without a lot of money and time being lost.

Several years back there was a series of commercials on TV, I think for an insurance company, which showed (using CGI effects) "impossible building strategies" - one showed a huge scaffolding structure and cranes building something like the Great Pyramid from the top downward (for instance); I think another had some kind of skyscraper being built from the middle outward or something of that nature.

That's essentially SWE applied to regular engineering - or at least, that's how it feels at times. Now tack on Agile and other practices, and it gets 10x worse. Actual engineering is a strict discipline, starting with almost set-in-stone practices along with a lot of hard-won knowledge about materials and mechanics (books filled with tables and diagrams), that are then all used to inform an engineering design, which is then tested and retested in simulation, perhaps coupled with scale models that are also tested, and the plans changed and signed off by multiple other engineers, etc - long before it ever gets to building the thing.

And then that thing is built in a very specific and strict manner; I won't further belabor the point.

Even with all of this, sometimes things fail terribly.

Today in software, we have a ton of tools and practices we are constantly trying - and despite all of them, at least from my perspective - things really haven't gotten much better than they were 20-30 years ago. I would say that widespread use of software versioning tooling and testing frameworks, etc (plus automated build and deployment) have made some of it better - but even after all that, we still seem to be making the same number of bugs and errors that we had before (and rather than a QA department usually, we've farmed this out to the end user for the most part).

So while I'd love to see SWE become more like regular engineering practices (with the selfish request that I and others like me could be "grandfathered" in, as I don't have any kind of compsci or comparable degree, but I have been doing this for 25+ years) - I just don't see it happening for the above rational and reasons.

I could be wrong, though (and if anyone has a counter argument, please post it - I'd love to read it)...


This is a strawman. Why are you talking about public infrastructure in a submission about privately owned vehicles that are exclusively used on privately owned land that has no paved roads or any significant traffic?


I disagree. It's never been harder to compete by producing a long-term, very reliable machine.

* You have to make your machine good the first time. The customer buys it completely, no chance to update and fix things.

* Your machine is marketed as reliable. This means it has to be reliable, so you put a lot of effort / material / money into your machine, when your competition puts in much less.

* If your machine is indeed reliable, your customers won't show up for another in a few decades(!). They also won't need many spare parts. This will make your machine much more expensive up front. On a market where an average machine is priced in hundreds of thousands USD, this may be a deal breaker.

* Since you are a newcomer, there's little implicit trust to you, right when you are selling very expensive hardware much higher than competition.

It looks like everything is stacked against you.


Most things that break are electrical, not mechanical. The mechanics of reliable machines are taught in school and are widely available + relatively easy to repair.

And I'm speaking from growing up in a village with the highest agricultural % of population in Belgium. Which my family is also pretty involved with ( my dad is a veterinarian for farm animals, my uncle has ~40 tractors)

Also: a cousin with a garage, some friends who work at a big manufacturer and another cousin who with worked there.

My background influenced my opinion, not a unfunded comment like yours. I am curious what your background is, it's far from reality up here.

Mechanical parts are becoming a selling point. Just no manufacturer realizes it yet, because of "subscription access", lol.

I'd actually buy a mechanical environmental-friendly car. Not some electrical car that needs an overpriced official garage to work on. I want the guy I know, to work on my car. Because it's simple to fix and it didn't need a official licensed laptop to be serviced.

And I'm not alone:

https://tractorhacking.github.io/

https://www.vice.com/amp/en_us/article/xykkkd/why-american-f...

https://www.vice.com/amp/en_us/article/kzp7ny/tractor-hackin...

On a personal note, it means I'm abandoning Mercedes-Benz for my next car or have a lease from work.

Ps. All newcomers try full-electric cars. Which have a lot of breaking parts.


Let me introduce you to the lada 4x4(previously known as the lada niva all over the ex-soviet countries).

https://www.lada.ru/en/cars/4x4/3dv/about.html

it hasn't changed much, it's still serviceable with a hammer and a couple of pulleys and wrenches. Not sure if it's available in Belgium(it is in eastern europe) and it sure as hell isn't as comfy as a BMW or a MB, but it's cheap to buy and maintain.


Ladas are basically workhorse tanks. Garage 54 on YouTube has put them through all sorts of torture and they take it and ask for more, I wish they were easier to get here in the United States as I'd love to have one.

Garage 54 English (dubbed) channel - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCydCOEgfcXAQnkRaLCTsAQ

Garage 54 Russian channel (has more videos) - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBByzLy3MGJT8UMVLYLScNg


lol it also has a reputation for being super unreliable


I don't understand why this comment unvoted :-) Basically "never breaks/reliable" and "easy to fix/repairable" is orthogonal things. Lada Niva (4x4) as basically all Ladaa is really easy to fix, but not reliable. If you are riding Lada you have to have toolbox and be ready to perform small repairs weekly, if not daily. But every repair is easy, spare parts are cheap and available (at least in Russia in time of Lada popularity). Modern car: basically visit dealer once per year, something rarely breaks, but if they do, car not fixable w/o expensive special tools


> Because it's simple to fix and it didn't need a official licensed laptop to be serviced.

This is exactly my point.

Imagine that you are selling cars. If you sell a reliable, easy to fix car, you don't get any recurring revenue. But you need to make as much money as the competition who sells less reliable cars, and more because you can't cut corners. So your upfront cost is higher.

The competition, which sells less reliable cars, can ask much less upfront, and offset this by some recurring revenue from fixing it periodically at licensed mechanic shops that pass a cut to the manufacturer.

This is very much like inkjet printers are sold at a loss, and the money is made on selling the ink which is regularly needed. But with cars (tractors, etc) the manufacturer sells maintenance / spare parts.

In this way, the manufacturers of service-intensive machines credit the buyer initially, but then more than make it up in the "interest" payments.

This is sad dynamics, but I don't see an easy way out of it.

I hope there exists a large enough segment of consumers who distinctly prefer the more expensive, more reliable; from your words, you seem to belong to it. But I'm not sure such consumers are a majority.


The manufacturer of the more reliable car can win by offering a warranty and/or "discounted" repairs. That way, even a naïve customer who doesn't expect the manufacturer to make a reliable car will be incented to buy it anyway. Of course, this will only work if building a more reliable car really is more efficient than doing constant repairs on a less-reliable one. IOW, it actually leads to properly-aligned incentives all around.


A warranty is utterly worthless if there's no company to back it up. Would you trust a brand-new company to be around for 10 years if they offered a warranty that long?

For cars, at least, "discounted" repairs are pretty much impossible in the USA: manufacturers aren't allowed to own the service shops here, by law. The service has to be done by independent dealers. Of course, the manufacturer could heavily subsidize this service (by paying most of the cost directly to the dealer), but that's going to take away all their profits.


After years of dealing with manufactures that find any possible way to weasel out of honoring their warranties, I don't place any credence in them whatsoever. I don't even consider warranty when making a purchase, just reputation for quality, which takes time to build; time most startups don't have to start showing a profit.


> I'd actually buy a mechanical environmental-friendly car.

I agree. In fact an electric car could be simple. Just because it has an electric motor doesn't mean it has to have a computer too.


There's fairly complex compute that happens in the battery cooling, motor cooling power train etc in a Tesla that gives it the acceleration and range to compete with ICE cars. The early 1900s electric cars that were more akin to what you describe never had the range, power or acceleration to compete.


If we're lucky we'll see plug and play standardization for things like batteries, charging components and engines where the chassis and ux parts of the car can be all different but everyone can essentially have a corolla or civic to fit their price point.

I should also add that i mostly just want a car, i don't need it to drive for me, I think the telsa's could be very very simple if they dropped all the self driving stuff. I know they won't but it would be cool to buy a crate telsa engine and battery pack for a rolling chassis without the infotainment system.


Realistically it does have to have a computer, but not necessarily a visible one. Power motor control is tricky - it requires monitoring the phase angle between the drive currents and the motor position, as well as things like overcurrent protection and the ability to switch to regenerative braking. Oh and you'll want traction control in there because the torque is highest at zero RPM, unlike petrol motors.

Even electric scooter size motors will have smart controllers. They're a big market for microcontrollers, e.g. TI: http://www.ti.com/solution/dc-input-bldc-motor-drive


It has to have a computer, the way your ICE car has a computer, or maybe the way your washing machine or a microwave has a computer (they all do).

It should serve the driver, and be low-profile and unobtrusive.


Does my washer really have a computer? Electric control board, certainly, but the timers are all mechanical. What is there to compute?


It's a hell of a lot cheaper to throw in a micro-controller than use mechanical timers etc. At bulk, an MCU based control board should cost you single digit dollars.


> You have to make your machine good the first time. The customer buys it completely, no chance to update and fix things.

> Your machine is marketed as reliable. This means it has to be reliable, so you put a lot of effort / material / money into your machine, when your competition puts in much less.

The good news on this front is that every single patent covering a 40 year-old machine is expired. That means a lot less upfront cost of designing a reliable one. You'll want to redesign the body panels to avoid copyright; you'll want to consult with the community to patch some known defects; but there's no need to reinvent the whole danged thing. And that can go a long way towards establishing trust in your brand.


> I disagree. It's never been harder to compete by producing a long-term, very reliable machine.

All of your points are related to making it reliable, but all it needs is to be repairable. Then look what happens:

> Your machine is marketed as reliable. This means it has to be reliable, so you put a lot of effort / material / money into your machine, when your competition puts in much less.

Or you do the opposite, get it to market quick so you can undercut them on price. Then people buy it for the lower price and don't mind as much when it breaks because the repairs are cheaper. Paying $500 twice is far better than paying $10,000 once.

> If your machine is indeed reliable, your customers won't show up for another in a few decades(!). They also won't need many spare parts.

If it's of average reliability but more repairable then you'll do above average business selling spare parts because your equipment will remain in service longer. Meanwhile your customers will also notice that they're paying much less for repairs than your competitors' customers, and good reviews and word of mouth will drive new sales from other people.

> Since you are a newcomer, there's little implicit trust to you, right when you are selling very expensive hardware much higher than competition.

Which is where the repairability comes in again. If you can only get replacement parts from the manufacturer then the customer has to worry whether the manufacturer will still be in business in ten years, but if you can get parts from any third party parts supplier even after the manufacturer is long gone then the customer doesn't have to worry about that.


It looks like the standard business model of sell product, receive payment might not be the best idea for something like this, but there are other models.

What if the primary form of business is selling the parts instead? Then repair shops become the primary customer, with home repairs and selling the actual vehicle just being the PR model for adoption?

You say they won't need many spare parts. But thanks to emissions regulations, they'll still have to have plenty of electrical components, and those do still break. Easily.

Even on the old-style tractors, I've still replaced plenty of parts. Things do break. Simple things that are easy to replace, but you still need the parts. Clutches, bearings, etc. Tractors are exposed to harsh environments for most of their lives. Plenty never ever come indoors.

The engines don't often need replacing. But plenty of other things still do.


> Simple things that are easy to replace, but you still need the parts.

AFAICT, say, John Deere do nearly the same thing. But they insist on your using their own spare parts (not cheaper third-party parts, or something you fixed yourself), and go to great lengths way to ensure that (with chips, online activation, etc).


> It's never been a better time to create a good old repairable machine.

Especially now "right to repair" is gaining traction and reducing waste is becoming a social issue.


Thanks for sharing this about your grandfather.

> The world changes and sometimes it sucks but that is how progress is made.

This touches on something I think a lot about. Massive driverless farms, in my mind's eye, looks like one puzzle piece towards the utopia of the future. But you do lose the human aspect. It reminds me of Star Trek where Picard is working with his hands on a vineyard. Capitalism is abolished so he does it just for the human reasons. There's no way he can compete with a replicator.

So that leads me to thinking about how we're in a really tight spot. The "human" present (past?) of salt of the Earth people making our products with a human touch and passion vs. the demands of the future utopia we want(?). It's a tight spot because capitalism mode is still active. The people who want to be passionate about their craft still have to compete commercially. In a future it might be that they can do it just because that's what they feel like doing. (super tangent: that reminds me of the "Primitive Technology" trend on YouTube where people re-discover technology just for the heck of it)

It also reminds me of a response I once got. I regularly use farriers as an example of a skilled job that has pretty much gone obsolete because of automobiles. Someone once responded, "have you seen a farrier at work? It's art."


You make an interesting point. I think ideally what we want is:

* easy automation for those that need it; if corporations want to driverless tractors doing all their farming, so be it. They're responding to a market that is demanding a lot of cheap food.

* occupation as a choice; the productivity gains from automation shouldn't all just pile on to the people who made the investment; but it could be used to provide necessities to those that need them. So a small scale farmer, for instance, would not be competing directly in the same market as the corporation, and they wouldn't need to make a profit to do what they want to.

Human brains are great at seeing patterns; we shouldn't be wasting them on repetitive work that can be mechanized. Let people do what they want to without existential threats and see what happens.

In a certain sense, this is already true for the wealthy. The nature of wealth is that it gives you safety nets to fall back on if you fail at what you want to do. A lot many of the greatest artists came from wealthy backgrounds.

I would honestly want a lot more people creating art, video games, curing cancer etc. than have more people picking crops.


I don't have any references for this, just the farmers I have spoken to, so take this with a grain of salt. The massive mono-crop farming apparently have the draw-back of not following some of the recycling processes that old school, small farm farmers did to keep the soil rich and diverse in nutrients. i.e. rotating out crops, bringing in animals to eat old crops, flowers, provide diverse waste product as fertilizer. Now it is all just bags of specific minerals added back in by machine, based on the bare minimum that they are required to by people that test the soil. Depending on who I talk to, I hear that there may be less than 60 harvests left before crops basically have little nutritional value. I've also heard that this is basically already happening, in that, crops have less nutritional value than they did say 50 years ago. But again, I don't have any references so this could all be nonsense.


> small farm farmers did to keep the soil rich and diverse in nutrients

Some old school small farmers did this. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, they famously did not, leading to the dust bowl. That was caused by small farms, not industrial farmers.

But I totally agree that modern industrial agriculture only does the bare minimum to keep nutrient levels up.


It is a bit more complex, old farming methods need to change as well, but not as much as Corp farming. This video explains regenerative farming which restores the soul and captures carbon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_NtNyvOyRM



Bertrisges law of headlines aside that article is highly suspicious given the sheer number of studies looking for health advantages of organic and finding jack shit concrete. It is a pile of innuendo that doesn't set out to test ita hypothesis.

It could be trivial as a few new virgin test carrot patches vs established farms and get telling results. Yet tellingly they didn't do that simple test for their hypothesis let alone correlaries like by assaying various characteristics like perhaps if slower growth speed has more to do with higher accumulation of nutrients than soil content.


I've heard similar things. I don't think mechanization is at fault. I'd bet it's more the capitalism part forcing min maxing.


That's the piece we are missing. Sharing the benefits of automation as a feedback of the ecomonic system.


Automated farms won’t be cheap. If it replaces hard manual labour, it will be replacing dirt cheap manual labour. No savings there.

Small farm automation is an urgent need. No one is doing it. Maybe in Europe.


I like to think that these advances allow us to spend more of our time finding and creating new kinds of art. The common factor between now and then is humans. Humans are artful beings so I am not worried about losing that. We'll just have to look to different places for it.


my 2c: The future will be sustainable city states. Food shouldn’t be traded as a commodity. It has caused terribly ecological and environmental collateral damage.

Most food production should be taken indoors/covered cropping/CEA and commodity food crops should be taken off speculative financial exchanges and markets(Wall Street/commodity markets) but traded at consumer level.


I think the transition from capitalism to Star Trek Utopia is where basic income guarantee can be very helpful


Matter replicators and energy too cheap to meter would be cool too. Both unfortunately seem crucial to the Star Trek's Utopia.


In Star Trek the transition from capitalism to utopia involved a global nuclear war.


And a visit from the Vulcans.


I'm from a long line of farmers. My dad was born and raised on a farm and went off to business school in the 1960s, had a career in business and (tried to) return to farming in the mid 1980s. By then the corporatization of farming had already begun and was in full swing. Economics was constantly demanding larger and larger economies of scale. The "paltry" 200 acres of my grandmother's farm wasn't sufficient, nor was the second farm my father bought. It was impossible to afford a combine for a farm that small. He ended up paying the neighboring farm (1000+ acres) to do the harvest for him, cutting his margins even lower. He got out of farming by the 1990s and went into day trading.

> The world changes and sometimes it sucks but that is how progress is made.

It isn't progress. It's mechanization. Mechanization demanded by economics. Our food is lower quality (especially fruits and vegetables) and full of pesticides and antibiotics, the ground water and soil are depleted. With the ease of global shipping, farmers compete on a global market which amplifies competition even more. And if people in Timbuktu don't like the taste of my apples, who cares. But hey, food is cheap, ubiquitous and fewer people have to be farmers. But what that really means is bigger profits for fewer people, more environmental overhead, and throwing lots of people out of a line of work that stretches back literally ten thousand years.


Do you think end-users products from corporation style farms are cheaper than family farm (for equivalent quality) ?


Cheaper, yes, but currently corporate agriculture is less sustainable as they make little to no efforts in maintaining or building the top soil depth, and instead reap the soil for marginal yield gains and then buy out the small 75+ year well tended farm and do it all over again. Eventually having decent farm land is going to cost a premium and food price will rise because of it. Short term gains for long term costs.


Uhh... I worked in an adjacent industry for a while and multiple interactions with big players and small players left me the distinct impression that it was the other way around. Little players just kept doing what they did the year before because it "worked," no matter how sub-optimal, no matter how long-term detrimental, while big players hired agricultural scientists that actually knew how to measure, optimize, and spend money on costly upkeep with an expected long-term payoff.


>>currently corporate agriculture is less sustainable as they make little to no efforts in maintaining or building the top soil depth

How did you come to this conclusion? I'm close the industry, and in my experience, corporate farms spend a great deal of effort maintaining soil, which includes using drones to visually inspect crops to see where soil may be lacking certain nutrients based on foliage color analysis.


> Eventually having decent farm land is going to cost a premium and food price will rise because of it.

I believe prime tillable land in Iowa currently goes for something like $10k/acre. That's not really in the realm of "cheap" when you need 100s of acres to be profitable in today's farm economy.

Further, the agricultural colleges in the Midwest have extension offices specifically devoted to spreading best practices regarding sustainability and soil health.

Healthy soil is productive soil. There's a reason yields keep going up, and its not just down to plant breeding.


Industrial agriculture would still be cheaper than bespoke farming even if they were good stewards of their soil, if only because of economies of scale.


Perhaps the older generation is actually less sustainable. I recall a friend telling me how frustrating it was to be back farming with his dad because his dad insisted on tilling up the field every spring instead of using no-till methods.


The quality from the corporate farm is probably worse. But the buyer is a distributor that doesn't really care about quality. Corporation can use financial engineering, economies of scale, and low pay to make profit from an otherwise unprofitable farm. Sometimes they can strong-arm modestly profitable farms into a sale.


Initially yes, but through consolidation they will form 2 or 3 huge megacorps that control our food supply. It won't be pretty.


My FIL had 88 acres in NE Indiana, grew corn, winter wheat, and soy beans and raised 40,000 chickens at a time. Not all the farmers were making money, and when they went out of business there were auctions. Soooo, my FIL got his farm equipment, including tractors, used at the auctions.

And he did his own repairs: I remember sitting with him at Christmas at his kitchen table with a little mechanical part, precisely machined, part of the fuel injection system. He had me looking at the part, including the moving part, to see if it could be the cause of some problem he was having with the fuel system. So, yes, he did his own repair work.

Heck, for his house he got plans from Better Homes and Gardens and did nearly all the work himself. For the baseboard heat, he innovated and made the parts himself. He did the carpentry to make his own kitchen and dining room tables and chairs, living room coffee table, etc.

For the chickens, he mixed his own feed, and for that built his own feed mixing facility with, yes, used parts. He would include corn, 55 gallon drums of anchovies from Chile, etc.

At the time, there was money in chickens due to suddenly progress in breeding, nutrition, and disease control.

For the chicken houses, he got plans from the USDA and built the houses both longer and wider than in the plans. He used no concrete and had tar paper for the sides and roofs. For the floors, those were dirt, and between batches of chickens he would use his tractor to clean out the floors and then spread wood shavings. For feeding the chickens, he designed, patented, and built his own feeders -- so the chickens have to eat all the feed and not just pick out the corn which is their favorite.

He learned the hard way that he had do to his own marketing: Some grocery store chain would promise to buy the whole flock of 40,000 but when the chickens were ready would find an excuse to delay, say, a sale on beef or pork. A delay of a week meant that had to feed the chickens for another week, and there went most of the profit. So the store would string him out until he would sell below cost just to get rid of the chickens.

So, he did his own marketing: He worked with a guy who did big chicken dinners for large organizations. Then the dates, quantities, and prices were all SET in advance. Smart.

Eventually due to NE Indiana winter snows, the chicken houses sagged a LOT, but by then he was out of the chicken business and head of the local electric power cooperative! So, building the chicken houses cheap paid off! Others built tiny chicken houses with concrete floors, cinder block walls, and tin roofs, outlast the Pyramids, and long since standing empty as the farmers went out of business.

Yup, gotta be smarter than the average hick to be successful in farming!


It sounds like the "pets / cattle" metaphor is finally returning to actual ranches.

I don't think software is eating the whole world but it's eating that one. That tells me it's ripe for disruption.


Hobby farm with printed tractors running on the gig economy.


The greatest innovation in the history of mankind was a land consolidation. It took what 100 peasants all making enough food for subsistence living to 100 peasants be able to make enough food for thousands of people.

It's not sad, it's progress.


The end of peasantry was long before the rise of corporate, industrialised agriculture.

Like so many human activities, fashions, and innovations, the reduction in numbers required to work the land started off providing a benefit and ultimately went much too far. Looking at the destruction such as algal blooms in countless water courses from over fertilisation, steady soil erosion, loss of wild flora and fauna caused by industrialised agriculture and the colossal fields with a single crop, as far as the eye can see in every direction, it's hard to call it progress. It's change. Milk in shops is older than it was, homogenisation allows older milk to pass without notice. It's not progress, and hasn't been for quite some considerable time.

We have large, pretty, consistent fruit and vegetables, but there's been a 50% decline in nutrient content since the war, and a similar decline in taste -- frequently replaced by sugars. We've hugely increased systemic risk from use of monocrops as all it takes is a single virulent disease to put the entire world's production at risk -- see bananas.

Even the productivity gains are overstated. On the old mixed, family farm the raw individual crop productivity was far lower, but the chickens, pigs and plants overlapped such that the waste of one provided food or fertiliser for the others, the animals provided some degree of pest control, and as a whole the productivity was far better than usually assumed.

Industrialisation begets simplification, begets monoculture, for the sake of profit not progress.


Thank you for taking the time to give a detailed response here. I’ve always found it astonishing that the side-effects of ‘progress’ like diminishing nutrient content and environmental impact are so willingly ignored. Feeding more people is a positive, but it’s rather a hollow victory if their well-being and health ultimately takes a hit.


Yes maybe the word progress is wrong. It should be control. In the end the goal of human kind is to take control of every square inch on this planet. Farming has shown some real advancing examples of this principle


Land consolidation can be done through communes/co-ops, in which case the benefits of increased productivity are fairly distributed, or through private corporations, in which case profits are privatised and concentrated on a small owner elite class.


There are dairy co-ops where I live that do this sort of thing. That's why they're so huge. However the small ma and pop ones that have local well known businesses charge an arm and a leg for half a gallon of milk. Yeah sorry, I'll pay half that cost for a gallon at walmart, thanks.


I was fascinated to hear a recent news story about how this works. The US has a long history of subsidizing its dairy industry (not unlike other countries) and part of that has been a "price floor" on milk. This floor applies to retailers purchasing milk from producers / distributors, but if the retailer also owns the producer... there's no retail price floor. Hence, the fairly extreme price difference between a regional dairy's milk and Great Value.


Milk pricing is complicated, and I don't really understand it, but I don't think your comment is correct. There exists a "price floor" on a national level that establishes a minimum price that is payed to producers. This price differs based on location, which acts as a proxy for price of production.

But I'm pretty sure there is no mandated federal minimum retail price, although some individual states (Maine, California, Pennsylvania, probably others) have state-specific laws regarding retail pricing. Are you maybe confusing a state law where you live with national policy? Or am I out-of-date?

I am surprised by how inexpensive compared to local brands Walmart's Great Value milk is where I shop in Vermont. My guess was that this is because the local brands pay their producers at the higher North-Eastern rate, whereas Walmart sources their milk from the mid-West and can pay a much lower wholesale price.


Dairy is an abusive industry in the United States and heavily subsidized. It costs more per gallon than the sale price per gallon. Dairy farms are dying. The mid west is thrilled about hemp farms..it’s expected to save a lot of farms. Until it doesn’t. But that’s another discussion re hemp.

The people who make money on dairy farms are the ones who chemical companies and pharmaceutical companies. The cost of raising milch cows eats away at margins. Dairy farmers survive because of subsidies until they have to keep producing more and more ..they stretch and stretch and then they collapse. Tragic.


Your choice unfortunately affects the greater world. Which would you rather have- a locally-produced society that's expensive to live in, or a Walmart society that's convenient to live in?


It makes sense for the local optimisation of the individual to go for the walmart society - after all their single choice won't make a difference to anything other than their bottom line

It makes sense for people as a whole to optimise as a society and have the locally produced society

That's where we can choose an economic system that ensures that we optimise in general rather than individually, so we avoid the prisoner's dilemma type problems.


I've come to the same conclusion. Never before in history have people truly optimize while thinking of themselves as a whole- the second something more convenient was offered, they took it immediately. I think that we're at a place in human history where we desperately need every person to step back from convenience in order to optimize for society.


This is the point of government and regulation. We're not going to get far relying on willpower and rational thought in individual decision-making. So we use government as tool to help use out.

I can't stop myself from eating an entire of package of Oreos if they're in the kitchen. So I don't buy them. I don't give myself the choice, because I know I'll make a bad one. Instead, I choose to restrict my choice (and the choice of the rest of my household) for our overall well-being.

This feels pretty bad if you're a 10-year-old and just want some freaking cookies. Sorry you weren't able to make your own choice there. Our overall well-being took priority over your individual liberties. I get why that is unacceptable to some folks, but there has to be some balance, and sometimes that means restricting personal liberties in order to maintain the health of the overall system and community.


To be fair all attempts at optimization on a grand scale like that give a new meaning to calling "premature optimization the root of all evil" as it starts including things like Eugenics and Inquisitions. It inevitably ends in failure, tears, and travesties. Or more pedestrian Soviet style lack of market failures.

Local is "sexy" but it has had worse efficency instead of better like promised and is often premised upon overassumptions of the cost of transit and a denial of inconvenient fact of economies of scale because it doesn't fit their world view.

It appears that part of the reason it is popular is because people think they understand it and think the logistics would be easier. I would put it in the simple, easy, and wrong camp of ideas.


As far as the individual goes, I think the locally optimal decision differs if you care about the difference in quality of taste from the non Walmart milk, or in the quality of life in the cattle that produced it.


Makes me consider Douglas Hofstadter's superrationality. Hofstadter provided this definition: "Superrational thinkers, by recursive definition, include in their calculations the fact that they are in a group of superrational thinkers."

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


This is a false dichotomy. I want a society that's efficient and utilizes minimal resources for maximum gain.


Around here, there's a chain of grocery stores that costs less than Walmart for better quality, locally sourced dairy (not milk though), meat, fruits, and vegetables. Boxed goods are usually cheaper at Walmart, though.


I'd rather have milk be readily available at $2.19 USD/gal than subsidize local farms.

I make six figures and I can get by at $4/gal but if/when you apply that reasoning to subsidies/protectionist regulations across the economy my ability to purchase goods and services is greatly reduced and so is my quality of life. I'd get by though. But it's not about me. It's about the family making half of what I make with three children that need to be fed and clothed. They're the ones who really get screwed when you hike the prices of commodities with protectionist measures. So given the choice of who gets screwed I'd pick the local dairy farmers every time.


how much of that is government subsidies?


Nothing stopping people from doing that.


There is an enormous body of law in the US that incentivizes a top-down corporate business structure and disincentives a co-op business structure.


This is quite a claim, but it's too vague for me to research independently. Where would I even start in exploring the "enormous body of law" that "incentivizes a top-down corporate business structure?" I am not asking rhetorically -- this is news to me and I'd like to know the details.

Of course, co-ops aren't common in the US, but they do exist (like REI) so I'm just curious about the details of this criticism of the legal landscape in the US but without further information am unable to research the claim.


Arguably that's exactly the problem. There's so much law applying to farming that you'd need a sizable legal department to know it all. That favors centralization.


That applies to every field as corner cases are covered. Restricting it to what is actually relevant to the domain is sufficent to "consultation with relevant country lawyer" as opposed to entire law firms.


I think human nature incentivizes top-down corporate business structures and disincentivizes co-op businesss structures.


Which is why 75% of France's farmers belong to an agricultural cooperative?


I can't speak for France specifically but if it's anything like the UK and Ireland then farming families are dis-incentivized to sell land because its costs nothing to hold, and always increases in value. As a farmer you might not even own the land you work on but rent it for the season, and large corporations don't work well with that kind of uncertainty.


Are those profitable though? Farming is heavily subsidized by the EU.


And American agriculture is likewise heavily subsidized by the federal government.


US agriculture is also heavily subsidized


Only commodity crops and those listed on Wall Street/stock exchange.

Not the food and vegetables and fruits we consume. Hogs and corn and sugar beets and canola and soy are subsidized.


Farming is heavily subsidised throughout the industrialised world.


Farming in New Zealand is not subsidized, and I believe the same is true of Australia. It's possible to compete on the open market and succeed.


NZ used to have subsidies but they got rid of it. Good for them. Fonterra is their big co-op. But with Chinese investment/ownership, most of it is going towards milk powder for export. They posted a loss for the first time last year. Canada has subsidies but different from American. They use a system called Supply Management. They make smaller family farms work better and will survive unlike American dairy. We have more CAFOs and factory farms that are not ecologically and environmentally sustainable in the long run. It’s a mess.


Perhaps, but the body of law point means we’ll never find out if you’re right or not.


I would be very careful in trying to attribute something as complex as corporate structures to human nature. We have seen massive changes in all parts of society throughout the last 10k years. I don't think the human genome has changed so rapidly as to cycle through slavery, feudalism, mercantilism, capitalism, etc.


It's always such a convenient and supremely lazy explanation. It's human nature for blacks to be servile. It's human nature for peasants to be ruled by the lord of the manor. And so on.


> Nothing stopping people from doing that.

So... human nature. Human nature is stopping people from doing that.


There are many corporate things that "stop people from doing that".

Seed monopolies [0]. Costco is undercutting chicken production just to maintain a $4.99 offering to their customers [1]. Mega farms have put over 2700 family farms out of business in Wisconsin [2]. CAFOs create pollution equivalent to 168 million people in the state of Iowa with only a total population of 3.2 million people [3]. All of this manure gets dumped back into the soil for monoculture corn farming which is grown to feed livestock which is also significantly inefficient and drains local resources on clean and fresh water supplies and significantly pollutes downstream via runoff into large rivers [4]. The main polluters are, again, these large scale farms concentrating operations for efficiencies to fulfill the ever expanding lineup of highly processed foods the majority of western culture now eats on a daily basis.

Money stops local farming. These mega farms are not in the business to make a great product, they're in the business to make a great profit - at the expense of their customers, no different than the tobacco manufacturers agenda. Between lobbyism, patents, mergers and grants by states desperate for revenue the concentration of control in farming has become very bleak in a short decade.

[0] https://philhoward.net/2018/12/31/global-seed-industry-chang... [1] https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/11/business/costco-5-dollar-chic... [2] https://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/industrial-dairy-farmin... [3] https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/agriculture/20... [4] https://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/center...


It looks like the neoliberal cult of "progress" has its acolytes on Hacker News, but that really shouldn't surprise.

What is sad, though, is the distinct lack of empathy that this ideology instills in its adherents. Leaving people behind is not a sign of progress; instead, it's a sign of an ill society.


I'll take being able to feed the entire world's population more affordably than ever over the jobs of a small group of people in a rich country. This isn't to say the government should play no role in cushioning those affected by progress, but the progress has been undeniably good.


Progress implies improvement. s/progress/change/


And how haven't things improved for the vast majority of people on Earth in regard to food security?


Well, it's interesting, we now have obesity problems and other issues brought on by our very success. "Too much is always better than not enough." But too much still brings trade-offs.

Further, consider that, since the invention of artificial nitrogen fertilizer[1] we have been converting oil into humans[2], and population growth is the main driver of environmental impacts. Food security is an illusion: if anything ever interrupts the production of nitrogen fertilizer in a serious way billions of people will starve.

Jared Diamond called agriculture "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race"[3]

We cannot judge the benefits of our civilization just yet.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haber_process circa 1910

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population Look at the graph, notice that it curves up sharply circa 1925-1950.

[3] http://www.zo.utexas.edu/courses/THOC/Readings/Diamond_Worst...


The dependence on fossil fuels goes so deep that we may end up having to choose between going hungry and overheating the planet.


I found it interesting reading the book The Box[1] because it showed how shipping was transformed over the last century or so.

The book is a giant analogy for huge inevitable changes that affect society.

It also showed how society dealt with the changes. Some people were supported by unions. On the other hand, some goverments tried to control things too much and the shipping industry just left and went to other cities or states.

[1] The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger


The same could be said for robots displacing humans in factories or trucks or anywhere else. That doesn't make it less sad for people's whose livelihoods depend on those positions just because its technological progress.


> doesn't make it less sad for people's who livelihoods depend on those positions

I totally agree. Id say, however, that we should be making it so those people, and we all, are okay without a job/with our jobs being automated away, not be Luddites about it.


The unfortunate thing is that people have been predicting that increased automation should lead to lower working hours and higher pay since 1930 when John Maynard Keynes predicted that we'd all be working 15 hour weeks. It's nice to just assume that we'll all benefit from more automation and more efficient processes but unless we all act to ensure that it is so it is not likely to happen.


The Luddites were Luddites precisely because they weren't okay without a job, they went hungry and homeless.


What is the fear around robots? Machines have been displacing human labour for the last 100 years.


During the industrial revolution hard labor jobs transitioned to maintenance work for the machines. The problem is as we improve at automation the need for non-technical maintenance decreases.

A small team of engineers can displace thousands or tens of thousands of workers without creating any new opportunities.


So has Microsoft Excel. We’ve already eliminated millions of desk jobs with IT. What is particularly special about factory jobs?


«A small team of engineers can displace thousands or tens of thousands of workers without creating any new opportunities.»

A corporation that did that would have significantly increased its profits, and this new wealth is often (not always) indirectly redistributed to society. For example the corporation could increase its production (ie. hiring more workers), or increase salaries/bonuses, or increase stock buybacks (therefore benefiting stock owners whoever they are), or spin off new business units, or decrease the prices of their products/services to further improve their competitiveness (hence benefiting customers), etc. Rarely does a corporation sit on piles of cash doing nothing (one notable counter-example: Apple.)


At some point, and there are arguments to be made that this point was 'After World War II', industry is capable of producing far more products than the public actually needs. You take out children, the elderly, stay at home parents, and the average person is productive for maybe a third of a lifetime, so being able to produce enough for 3 people is actually necessary.

What happens when you can produce enough for ten? What do the other 70% of people do? Make products nobody actually needs, using up raw materials. That's what we've done since the War and we decry all the waste. You can't have it both ways.

What happens when you can produce enough for 15? 20? 100? In theory that means leisure time in heaps for everyone. In practice we don't have societal structures that actually allow that to happen. You will not receive a week's pay for 6 hours of work. You will not be accepted by your neighbors and peers for working 6 hours a week. Or zero.

You're meant to be doing something. We enforce this with microaggressions on people we've literally just met.


It frees up a population to do other work. A small team of engineers can create a platform that creates something new to work on. Second life clothing shop for example that would not exist without machines displacing humans.


Losing your job to automation is bad for your livelihood. It has been since we started automating things.


Is it bad for your children's livelihood? You are sending a message on a computer made by a machine. Parts are so small it would be impossible to do by hand which created a number of other jobs to support this new ability.


To the extent that my children depend on me to eat, yes, its bad for their livelihood.

I'm saying that technology is _bad_. I'm saying that losing your job is bad, and if your boss replacing you with a machine is what causes that you're right to be upset.


> Is it bad for your children's livelihood?

Yes, there are numerous documented detrimental effects to children raised in poverty, and many of those effects follow them for life.


Progress on a societal scale for certain. Sadness on the personal scale as new generations mourn the loss of their family's historical way of life. Both can exist :)


That only exists on a generational level. The generations born afterward will never know about it, and therefore not care because it wasn't embedded in their cultural perspective.

It's like taking a childs binky away. Over time, you totally forget why you even had the thing in the first place.


No need to be condescending.


This particular progress makes us vastly more vulnerable to a catastrophic systems collapse. A lot of small, independent farmers are more antifragile to natural events than a few giant megacorporations. We're optimizing for profits at the expense of disaster.


Here we are, in a time when the shortcomings of centralization are rabidly apparent -across the board-. Counting that as some kind of win can only appeal to those who believe they are winning. For all the rest of us, the cheerful irony is more than a little disarming.

Efficiency and longevity can be inversely proportional. May the reductionists alone reap their crop.


Who says progress can't be sad?

The consolidation you're talking about was a massive disruption, which brought a lot of change to families and societies. Most kinds of change are painful even when they lead to greater efficiency.

While the transformation of agriculture has led to great prosperity, prosperity also brings hierarchy; i.e. more unequal social forms.

Much of the US has transitioned from a relatively agrarian and egalitarian society to one that is much richer, but also less equal and more divided, in the last 150 years.

There are clear tradeoffs in that transition, which some people might call the march of progress. Ways of life die off, and those who knew them in childhood often regret their passage, regardless of whether the world's wheat production increases.


It's not sad, it's progress.

These are not mutually exclusive concepts.


It's sad that progress must mean sadness for some. We should have better social safety net so that displacement doesn't mean despair.


While the financial/livelihood component is a major factor I think most of those affected, if asked, would say that is the least of the reasons for their sadness. It is the intangible things being lost and the end of a way of life that causes the most pain IMHO.


Indeed. Also, many things that are good in moderation are bad in excess.


You're right. I think I personally just get so incredibly upset with people who always look toward the past or are just mortified of change. I associate the sadness with their fear of change.


You should read 'The Storm Before the Storm' by Mike Duncan. It details the fall of the Roman Republic and highlights the role played by land consolidation and the social dislocation that gave rise to the empire. For better or worse, it was definitely less stable.


I heard somewhere that the greatest innovation (the most impactful at the particular stage of our evolution) was the bicycle, because, it enabled human cross breeding over much larger distances at a much faster rate than possible before.


That seems rather implausible given that railroads came about at the same time.


How affordable was railroad travel? Even assuming there was a railroad in the right place, would people have been able to go back and forth often enough for courtship?


Railroads revolutionized cargo. Passenger transport was a cute party trick at first.


Well, there would be a lot more bicycles and they could go a lot more places a lot faster, no? I.E. They would enable a much faster rate of genetic mutation.


No. Bicycles were heavy, uncomfortable products for the first ~40 years of their existence. Rubber tires and pedals didn’t come to bicycles until the 1860s. By that point the US had >30k miles of extensively linking most of the northern states. The modern bicycle didn’t really come into being until the 1890s.

I’m having a hard time getting numbers for track in Europe, but the UK was the real pioneer and Germany followed quickly.


Well, clearly, wherever I heard that from was a terrible source of information! I stand corrected!


Also isn't it a lot more comfortable cross-breeding in a sleeper car than on a bicycle? (Asking for a friend.)


it is a great progress, yep. We just always implement it in a sad, social darwinism style, way.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JEYHczRar8&list=PLwcGjCE72U...


"Corporations want tractors as a service"

Those same self-driving-tractor-as-a-service companies can offer service to farmers also!


It will lead to more wealth accumulation for a select few and again lead to income disparities.


"The family farmer is going extinct." This is a pretty sad state of affairs. I feel like this is true for other industries as well, including tech. Corporate socialism appears to be eating all forms of free enterprise and while it has some benefits such as scale products, it has far too many drawbacks such as less freedom.


Doesn't sound like progress to me


Is family farming better than corporate farming? If so, why?


>Personally, it is sad to see this change since so much of my family history and memories are tied up in the way things used to be

In some ways I can relate to that, but that is an extremely dangerous trap to go down.


The technology itself is not the issue, the problem is that companies are at war with their customers. These companies will go to any length to extract as much revenue as possible. Milking your customers is not good for business, especially if you drive them into insolvency.

I hope in the future there are more companies that try to align incentives with their customers, such that their business practices help customers be more successful (although many of them preach this, very few actually do). Many businesses these days seem to be geared toward making a quick buck, rather than really providing any value.


> Milking your customers is not good for business, especially if you drive them into insolvency.

It clearly is good for business, even if it's bad for customers and society at large. Pretending it's bad for business just encourages complacency because it suggests that the natural discipline of the market will drive the milkers out of business and encourage good business practices. But that doesn't happen, and if we want that to change there needs to be some source of external regulations to prevent it from happening.


I think what's being overlooked is "it's good for businesses in the short term" not necessarily good for them in the long term.


But it needs to be followed with observing that the market doesn't give two damns about long term, because anyone optimizing for long-term profitability eventually gets outcompeted by someone optimizing for shorter-term profitability.


Did it help Boeing?


Boeing optimizes for short-term. Long-term is already secured for them by US regulations.


what about amazon?


What about it? Amazon is in the process of burning down their e-commerce business.


Interesting, could you give more details on that?


These companies are losing customers. That is never good for business. Eventually, someone will take the matter into his own hand and start making 80s-like tractors, so these companies will lose even more customers. They could do the same, but at this point they lost the trust of their customers, so it will be very hard to gain them back.


>>Eventually, someone will take the matter into his own hand

I believe you. This is how Netflix got born. A customer was so embarrassed about how Blockbuster milked him with late fees that he decided to start his own business. We all know what happened to Blockbuster.


Maybe they are loosing a particular kind of customer they may want to loose anyway. Neither the number of acres to be farmed nor the number of mouths to feed decrease when a small farm goes under. The tractor has no long term concern of sitting idle and it may be giant non-corporeal people prefer doing business with their own kind.


lose... losing.


thanks up voted. I am terrible with fashion.


> These companies are losing customers.

Are they? John Deere has increased its revenue from $28B to $39B in the last 4 years....


Not really proof that they aren't losing customers as they could be overcompensating by increasing revenue-per-customer


Really? Which products are getting more repairable with time? Nobody is bringing back easily repairable washing machines or easily repairable automobiles.


Lots of products are more repairable now, by the owner, primarily due to the internet (YouTube specifically), along with websites dedicated to providing schematics and parts lists/ordering (Appliance Parts Pros, etc.).

I've personally repaired a broken dishwasher (temperature sensor's solder busted), the hot-surface ignitor of a gas-fired water heater, the water-filter socket of my frig, and helped a friend repair the ignitor in his gas-fired dryer.

All thanks to Youtube videos with instructions/tutorials, and the availability of parts.

Prior to these, I would have had to call a repairman, and then he'd probably say "you need a whole control board" or "the unit's dead."


Your argument is wholly incorrect, though. Manufacturers aren't making things easier to repair. Those things you repaired? They were already easily repaired. In the case of your argument, the only thing that has changed is whether or not people know how to repair things. And these days most people don't and most aren't willing to try without step by step instructions on how to.


That's partly because there's so much older stock. Also, the "easily-repairable" products of the past were not nearly as cheap! The closest comparison today would be "heavy-duty", "pro" models, often built by niche manufacturers, which do advertise ease of servicing as part of the value.


I don't know about cars, but I am typing this on a Thinkpad in which I can change the battery with no tools and can change most of the internal components without more than a screw-driver.


While true for my Thinkpad (T520), it no longer really holds for many of the latest models, with many of the T series having solderen on RAM or secondary batteries that are built-in a not easily servicable.


Parts and service cost as much as a new unit. This happened after free trade and if we produced locally the repair business would be a growing field.


Really? I completely replaced every sensor, and a primary component in one of my appliances for $40, and about 30mins of my own labor

Cost to replace the unit with a new machine, $500


Being suddenly in the market for a new washing machine myself, I might argue that a large portion of the value of a washing machine is in its aesthetics. Same (probably more so) for cars. I'd probably need to put more thought into that, but I am fairly certain that aesthetics don't count for much in a tractor on a farm. It's possible that classic-styled tractors might even be mark in their favor.

Either way, I suspect, apples to oranges.


If I could buy a washing machine with a 10 year warranty I would not care at all what it looked like.

My washing machine is leaking at the moment. I have to decide whether or not its worth my time pulling it outside and apart to see if it can be fixed, or if I should just go buy a new one for $750


Quality of materials [1], workmanship, capacity, ease of loading, max spin speed, gentle spin option, energy rating, water consumption, quietness, quick wash function, drums that reduce creasing and so on. Good quality washing machines are more expensive but not because of aesthetics.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGGhmKknKXo


It does make a big difference to have an air conditioner. And GPS guidance.


Very true.


It would drive out bad actors in the long run if there was proper competition in the market. Unfortunately short term gimmicks can give you the necessary capital to simply buy your competition and then you can milk your customers because they have no other option but not to play.


It's great for business, in the short term. And that's all that really matters to shareholders.


in the short term... and in the long term often enough, because those short term gains can be used for all kinds of naughtiness later on. monopoly, regulatory capture, rent-seeking, and so on.


It's good for the business in the short run, but not in any other sense. Reputation matters quite a bit when it comes to this sort of costly, mission-critical equipment, and any John Deere competitor now has an easy way of grabbing some of that market share.


>>if we want that to change there needs to be some source of external regulations to prevent it from happening.

External Regulations is what created the problem in the first place

it is a Perversion of Copyright, Patent and trademark laws that allow these companies to lock down their hardware in the first place

A return to proper, very limited, copyright is the solution, not more business regulations


Or competition, or the farmers pushing back as they are. Regulation is only one of many tools for policing businesses.


To add some sources to this, the tractor companies have been milking farmers by forcing them to require subscriptions or use overpriced repair techs in order to get firmware updates/repairs.

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/kzp7ny/tractor-hacking-ri...

https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/04/09/52...


This could be a business opportunity for another tractor manufacturer. You're not forced to buy a John Deere.

Boutique tractors, hand repairable, simple parts. If people are hoarding onto 40 year old tractors, then that's a market signal that people want those type of tractors.


Yes, lets keep hoping the Market will solve everything, and that somehow, the trend of consolidation will magically reverse itself on its own, despite how ever fewer companies control each market. Wouldn't want to realize people have more power than just what they buy.


The power to walk away and not buy is an almost ultimate power; and companies/everyone does respond aggressively to it.

It is extreme hubris to think you can use some other power to get consumers a product that they magically want more than the one they're going to choose to spend their own money on. People value their money; they'll try and get the best value they can for it.


Extreme hubris, like food safety regulations? Car safety regulations? Right to repair laws? Truth in advertising laws? Bans on toxic chemicals in paint and toys? Worker protection laws?

All of those things, people could have simply chosen not to buy, or not buy from companies employing those practices, yet it took laws (i.e. collective action and organization), to affect them. Telling people to limit themselves to "simply not buying", is telling them to only use forms of protest that have been repeatedly proven not to work.

Don't like companies hiring paramilitary squads to kill union members [1]? Just don't buy Coca-Cola! Spend hours or weeks of research for every minor purchase or risk funding something abhorrent - just God forbid you pass any laws!

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/media/2003/jul/24/marketingandpr...


Why not loosen copyrights and other restrictions that make third party services impossible or impractical?


I'm not convinced this is accurate.

When an industry is offered a technology-based productivity improvement by a vendor, the increased profit associated with that improvement can go to three places:

1. The technology vendor itself 2. The business purchasing the technology 3. The customer

When the business purchasing the technology is a commodity business (its product is undifferentiated from a large number of competitive producers, e.g. corn, soybeans), the value from the technology will generally either stay with the technology vendor or flow down to the consumer in the form of lower prices.

This is why technology investment in a commodity business is often about a need to keep up with your competitors and not about actually increasing your profit. To paraphrase Charlie Munger, the productivity improvement doesn't 'stick to your ribs' if you are the farmer.

I think any business sophisticated enough to build highly automated farm tractors is also going to be sophisticated enough to realize that it doesn't make sense for the farmers to own the value associated with those productivity improvements. That is the plight of a commodity producer in the supply chain, I don't think it's a moral failing of the technology vendor.


> The technology itself is not the issue...

In a way, it is. There's no argument today's machines (including even consumer cars) are more technologically complicated than those of 40 years ago. There's more stuff (read features) that can break, and there's more microcontrollers and embedded computers that run software (read bugs) with sometimes intricate behavior.

Those 40-year old tractors are easier to maintain because everything is mechanical, so it's easier to diagnose and easier to fix.


New product for Tesla, CyberTractor!


Not long ago, it seems companies were still in the business of making tractors, or cars, or cakes, or something... Nowadays it seems every company is in the business of making money and paying bonuses for directors. The rest is an excuse.


There are some robber baron's from the late 1800's that would like to have a word...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robber_baron_(industrialist)


The fact we label those "Robber Baron's", but not today's ones as such, speaks a lot.

The teleological purpose of a company is to make money. Also, what time period are you talking about, exactly?


Perhaps at the time people did not accept this concept? I mean, if people don't see a problem with switching terminal values (feeding people) and instrumental values (making money) around, then there's no hope for humanity anymore.


In other markets, customers could just switch to a new business that was less shady. In this particular case, it doesn't seem like there are many alternative suppliers, so farmers have no other options. If they did, they would've gone with them. Buying decades-old tractors suggested they somewhat already have tried to find alternatives.


In which markets, though? I'm having a hard time identifying a market not overrun by companies at war with their customers.


Big AGG works the same way as any other industry: make enough money to grind your competition into the dust. If that means yanking features from a product so that you can sell it at multiple price points or if it means adding self destruct mechanizes that only you can fix then so be it. Obviously, not all entities work this way (bless their hearts) but I think it's fair to say most of the successful ones do.


> Milking your customers is not good for business

Maybe that's true in high-choice, low-stakes consumer situations, like "where should I eat dinner tonight?", but is it true in industries with high barriers of entry?

If I decide I'm flying across the country to visit family, I'm going to buy a ticket from some airline that is in fact trying to extract as much revenue as possible from customers. And the airline business seems to be healthy.

If I need to buy a new car, I'm going to be presented with models and trim packages designed specifically to extract the most money from the customer. Honda doesn't offer DX, LX and EX trim packages to save you money - they bundle things together so that even if all you care about is a sunroof, you're also paying for alloy wheels, fog lights, etc.

I've never shopped for tractors, but I'd suspect that maybe the tractor companies that stay in business are in fact the ones which extract as much revenue as possible from customers.


>I hope in the future there are more companies that try to align incentives with their customers

Sometimes the invisible hand is invisible because it's not there. I don't understand how "fewer regulations" is supposed to address problems like these, or really any market failure state.


Perhaps if you consider "regulations" like the DMCAA, "intellectual copyright" laws, patent laws and a host of other laws and regulations that criminalize the repair or alteration of machinery or other items that have been purchased you might garner a better understanding. If farmers weren't prevented by law from repairing or altering the equipment they've purchased this problem largely would not exist.


Farmers are doing the same thing, especially big midwest grain operations.

The family farmers are dinosaurs that will be out of business anyway. The regulatory framework, market consolidation and finances work against them. The only way to thrive is to be really big or really small.


If customers don’t want this stuff, why isn’t there a competing company offering non-DRM tractors?


If you don't know the answer to that - you may have wanted to think it through a little more.

Manufacturing at scale is hard and expensive. John Deere has been doing it for years, creating the most reliable tractors in the world for decades and has only recently decided to bend customers over to give them the ol' in-out-in-out.

A new brand would need to start from almost smaller than scratch, and have tens of million dollars of investment to even get started producing their own tractors. Then they'd have the uphill battle of a set of people who are extremely reliant on these machines to trust a new company with no track record with highly mission-critical equipment.

It would be an incredibly high-risk investment, with little to no guarantee of success.

Instead, as the article says - these farmers are not buying new tractors from anyone at the moment.


In today's market, your argument doesn't hold water.

A new brand would need to start from smaller than scratch? So what? People start new companies every day.

It would require tens of millions of dollars of investment? So what? We keep being told how capital markets are just sloshing with cash looking for investment opportunities; that one of the reasons for rising inequality is due to the dearth of investment opportunities for the rich to use to seek returns.

They'd have trouble finding customers willing to give them a shot? So what? Every startup has this problem. You solve it by differentiating yourself from your incumbent competitor. When your competitor is so hated that they're getting negative press in national news outlets and state legislatures are being pressured to pass laws, your differentiation proposition is practically written for you.

I'm sure there are tractor upstarts out there trying to get funding. The question is, if they're not getting funding then why not, and why doesn't anybody know about them?


Capital markets are looking for worthwhile investment opportunities. An established ag-implements manufacturer can probably use that sort of risk capital to expand into making tractors, or something like that. Getting a large firm started "from scratch" is going to be less feasible. And these things also take their time to happen, of course.


The moment you started to see any real success with a company like this and become significant competition, John Deere would reverse their equipment-as-a-service DRM-based model, and you would be instantly crushed by their far more familiar and established brand with all the accumulated knowledge and trust people already have. It's so certain that you have essentially no chance of long-term success. John Deere can operate like this because there's no competition, but the second there is competition than can revert to how they were and you are dead, so there's no point even trying.


Brand isn't everything, it doesn't "crush" competitors in markets without winner-takes-all characteristics (i.e. network effects). People buy smartphones that aren't iPhones; people buy burgers not made by McDonald's; people rent hotel rooms not offered by Hilton or Marriott. By the time the upstarts get competitive enough to force the incumbent to act, the upstarts already have branding and market power of their own, and are not so easily crushed.


I think you discounting the brand way to much.

Hotels, Food, etc are very much Brand focused, and absolutely people have their preferred brand of Hotel and Fast Food (and despise other brands)


Manufacturing industrial equipment is a far cry from your typical ycombinator style mobile-app startup.


Imagine, they could be the next WeWork!


I like to do road trips as a hobby and I see a lot of Japanese and other Asian brand tractors in American farming areas,so there is competition


Is that really a problem in the country of the Silicon Valley? Actually, that might be the only thing preventing this from happening.



They are pretty good for their price. The factory is still producing some models that were first designed in the 1970-1980s.


I think parts availability might be a problem with those, as well as a general lack of knowledge about them. Otherwise, yeah MTZs are simple and easy to fix.


Because manufacturing isn't software.

It takes a LOT of capital to build a company capable of manufacturing something like a tractor. And nobody will buy it initially because it has an unknown reliability record.

Look at the article, the farmers all make predictions about exactly how long those John-Deere tractors will last because they have roughly 40 years of experience working with them.


Mahindra is selling small and medium tractors in the US now; I don't know for sure but I wouldn't be surprised if they were much more user-serviceable than the American brands people are complaining about.


Note: This story is about heavy duty tractors. Lighter duty tractors are much more competitive marketplace.


Yeah, Mahindra has some reasonably large tractors on their website, but the really Big Tractors you'll find from say John Deere aren't available. According to Wikipedia they're the largest tractor seller in the world, so maybe they'll expand!



Because the bigger companies forced them out of business or acquired them.


Why was this downvoted? I just made the same comment before noticing this one already done. Competition is what solves these kind of things.


Sure, but how do you propose to introduce competition into this market?


There are nearly three dozen tractor manufacturers in listed on this page: https://www.ranker.com/list/best-tractor-brands/werner-brand....

Deere doesn't have a monopoly. But they do have an incredibly strong brand.


I guess, convincing Elon Musk that we need tractors on Mars could stimulate some competition.


Declare John Deere a monopoly and break them up?


Well the market has already been identified.


It will trickle down of course. /s


> If customers don’t want this stuff, why isn’t there a competing company offering non-DRM tractors?

Because modern capitalism is not a system that will magically fulfill customer needs, despite propaganda to the contrary. The way the system actually works is that the wants/needs of the capital-holders take priority over the wants/needs of other stakeholders (e.g. customers and workers). The other stakeholders are often forced to accept minimally acceptable deals, as long as the capital-holders are able to maintain barriers to entry (like large investments in capital).

A new market entrant will likely be tempted (eventually, if not immediately) to implement DRM just like Deere has. And Deere can always drop DRM temporarily if it will let them fend off a competitive threat.


I wonder how many presales a company would need to collect to make it worthwhile spinning up a tractor manufacturing plant.

Deere would need to decide whether to drop DRM to prevent your presale campaign.

If they do the consumer wins, and the new company can refund the presales and walk away.

If they don't you get your tractor manufacturing setup build and are then in the game.


> The way the system actually works is that the wants/needs of the capital-holders take priority over the wants/needs of other stakeholders (e.g. customers and workers).

The capital-holders did not (in most cases) get a "you are now free to hose your customers" card. The cases where they are free to do so are cases where there is a lack of competition. So "modern capitalism is not a system that will magically fulfill customer needs in the absence of competition". But if there is actual competition, and the wants of the capital-holders take priority over the wants of the customers, that's not going to work out well for the capital-holders.


> So "modern capitalism is not a system that will magically fulfill customer needs in the absence of competition".

But modern capitalism, at least in the American context, is a system being drained of competition. Competitors conspire to destroy it by merging and acquiring each other, and the deregulatory economic zeitgeist that's been in force for 40 years means the government has done little to foster it.

Markets tend towards equilibrium, and bitter competition is a kind of disequilibrium.


> But modern capitalism, at least in the American context, is a system being drained of competition.

I agree, and I agree that it's a problem. But it's the "being drained of competition" that's the problem, not capitalism itself. (Well, capitalism itself is something that would prefer to drain itself of competition - even Adam Smith knew that - but for capitalism to work properly, there has to be competition.)

There seem to be two kinds of "draining of competition". First, there's the "just too good" kind. Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and (the subject at hand) John Deere may all be of this kind (though Microsoft did plenty of dirty tricks to get there). Economics of scale and network effects create positive feedback loops where one competitor can win it all. I don't really know what to do about that.

The second kind is government-caused (or at least -allowed) monopoly. There's only one electric company here, because the government thought it made sense for there to be. Some other monopolies are less directly government caused, but heavy regulations can make it so that only the largest firms have the resources to comply, and all the smaller firms die.

Government-allowed is when the government approves a merger of firms that are big enough that the merger significantly decreases (or eliminates) competition.

With the government we've had for the last 40 years, I don't know what to do about this kind, either.


Because it would be really expensive to start a new tractor manufacturing business; it would take years to even get prototypes up and running; you'd still have to prove that your tractors were as good as or better than these 40 year old antiques (which they probably wouldn't be at first); you'd have to be able to make something that could meet safety and efficiency standards of today while giving up the advantages of tight control over maintenance; you'd have to figure out how to compete with the dealer, mechanic, and parts networks that represent a huge advantage of the existing players; and you'd have to figure out how to do all of that without running out of money. It's probably a twenty-year project. You up for it?


Could you not simply copy the 40 year old tractors almost exactly. Any patents should be expired.


Nope. If you did, I'm pretty sure the EPA would shut you down. Emissions regulations aren't quite as strict for tractors as for cars and trucks, but they are headed in the same direction. I don't think it's possible to meet emissions without computerized controls. And once you've put hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of electronics on the tractor, it's hard to resist the temptation to add DRM.


I know nothing about engines and found this article a good introduction about how computer controls help reduce emissions. https://www.pitchcare.com/news-media/diesel-engine-emissions...


I think that you would have a hard time getting EPA approval if you starting making brand new copies of legacy engine designs. A new diesel tractor engine has to meet EPA Final Tier 4/ Stage IV standards. I don't know what would stand in the way of making a knock off of the 4440 chassis and transmission that uses a new Cummins or other crate engine though.


How many times must it be demonstrated that "market forces" is not a silver bullet to every problem before people take the hint?


This problem was created by regulation. It's not clear that markets can work when governments grant monopolies, and don't restrict the ensuing vertical integration. The only solution is to grant weaker monopolies.


Market forces would work in this situation, if only the situation were different:

- if there were an existing competitive market, that would help.

- if there were a clear long-term market, that might inspire competition.

But in this case, market forces caused the problem.


> X could solve Y if only Y were Z

That's a nice hypothetical, but hardly helps these farmers. The real solution is America's most hated four letter word: regulation.


>Market forces would work in this situation, if only the situation were different

That can be said every time the market fails to adjust itself.


Because there is no competition in the US.


Does farmers in other countries somehow enjoy a plethora of tractor manufacturers to choose from?


Punjab state of India is pretty much Agriculture based, & have options of Ford, FarmTrac tractors as well as John Deere, Scot, this year models as well as from 1970s; along with local Indian Brands like Sonalika, Preet, Mahindra being equally good or better.


Mahindra tractors are based on the old International Harvester models I think. They sell them in the US also.

They look pretty cool, simple and repairable, but I don't know if they make ones the size of commercial John Deere tractors. All the Mahnindra tractors I've looked at were small.


No,not as big. All the ones I have seen in Punjab are way smaller, almost the size of an F-150 pickup truck.


Living in a rural, Norwegian area, I can remember seeing the following brands of tractors recently - Fiat, Zetor, Case, John Deere, New Holland and Massey Ferguson. I've probably not paid attention to at least a couple more - I am not a tractor aficionado...


In Europe, Claas, New Holland Come to mind immediately. But there are definitely others.


There's already competition.

Kubota

JCB

Kioti (I used to build these w/ my grand parents)


> Many businesses these days seem to be geared toward making a quick buck, rather than really providing any value.

Seems like an American thing, in part.


Yes this only happens in America. In the rest of the world businesses are done strictly by folks with a good heart and no ulterior motives.


It appears that their customers are particularly defenseless, in contradistinction to other industrial markets.


> Milking your customers is not good for business, especially if you drive them into insolvency.

That is unless you are a government contractor...


>I hope in the future there are more companies that try to align incentives with their customers, such that their business practices help customers be more successful (although many of them preach this, very few actually do). Many businesses these days seem to be geared toward making a quick buck, rather than really providing any value.

You're probably gonna need to wait until the current generation of MBAs retires for that.

This is an educational issue to some extent. All the problems that are now coming home to roost are the result of things business schools have been preaching as gospel from the 80s to present. New ideas are going to need to come along and all those people trained in the old ways are going to need to cycle out before we see meaningful change.


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