Gadgets that cost more to repair than to buy a new one

Farmers need a huge amount of equally huge equipment to ensure our kitchens are stocked with fresh food every day. Most people rarely consider what it takes and do not know the extreme expense invested in these machines. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are invested in farm equipment, with John Deere being one of the largest manufacturers. John Deere and others have also invested significantly in modernizing their equipment and most of it is as technologically advanced as our cars, if not more. Computers, touch screens, GPS locators and the like are commonplace among modern tractors, harvesters and combines. Manufacturers have made life easier for farmers in some ways while making it more difficult in others.

When farmers buy equipment from John Deere, for example, they own the equipment, but not the software that runs it. They only have a limited license to do this, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It used to be that if a farmer wanted to modify a tractor’s diesel engine, he was free to do whatever he wanted with no problem. But today, with software controlling almost all the functions of this engine, only the manufacturer has the right to modify it at will. This forces farmers to rely only on authorized dealers to carry out repairs and the practice has caused a backlash among farmers around the world.

Bloomberg reports how well software is integrated into modern equipment to the point that the computer not only keeps everything running, it relays everything through the cloud to John Deere. If a farmer decides to fix something on their own, messages can be sent back to Deere and a signal sent back to render the machine inoperable until an authorized service provider intervenes. For farmers living in rural areas, this can mean transportation costs of thousands of dollars and long wait times at the dealership, costing them money every day the equipment is down. This question is complex and deserves an in-depth discussion; it’s a great example of a modern-day David and Goliath. Fortunately, bipartisan lawmakers at the state and local levels are beginning to address the issue, and legislation to protect our farmers is on the way, slowly making the rounds. Hopefully our farmers will soon be able to focus on what they do best: keeping us well fed.

Alejandro L. Myatt