Deere in the Headlights
How software that farmers can't access has become necessary to tractor repair
Modern farm equipment runs on software. When manufacturers restrict access to the software tools needed to repair broken tractors, farmers are left out in the cold.
Modern farm equipment runs on software. But when manufacturers restrict access to the software tools needed to repair broken tractors, farmers are left out in the cold. They are forced to rely on dealerships to fix their equipment, which can lead to lengthy delays and inflated repair bills. With fields to be plowed, planted and harvested, farmers don’t have the time to wait for a dealer. They need to be able to fix their own stuff.
Our research shows just how much software is present in modern farming equipment, with as many as 125 software-connected sensors in a single combine harvester. Each sensor is connected to a controller network. A problem with any one of those controller networks will require diagnostic tools not available to farmers, sending them back to the dealer for a repair. According to agricultural equipment experts, these sensors and their associated controller networks are now the highest point of failure on the product.
The delays associated with dealer repair can have real impacts on a farmer’s crop and yield. Jared Wilson, a Missouri-based farmer, experienced them firsthand when a mechanical valve on his fertilizer spreader blew. He told us that the malfunction activated the immobilizer, which prevents the equipment from operating normally until error codes are cleared with software repair tools. That drove him to haul his machine into the dealer, where he says it sat for 32 days. In the meantime, he estimates he lost $30,000-$60,000 because of his inability to get seed in the ground.
Farmers support Right to Repair
Access to embedded code will not enable theft of source code
Translating these 1’s and 0’s back into source code is nearly impossible, which is why Apple, HP and others make embedded code freely available for their products in the form of firmware updates.
Independent tractor repair does not allow avoidance of emissions or safety controls
If manufacturers such as John Deere provided farmers with access to software keys, farmers would be able to break free from reliance on the dealer and perform critical repairs themselves. Industry groups, however, claim that doing so would also allow farmers to bypass emissions and safety controls.
Farmers need access to the tools necessary to repair their own equipment
Let us fix our stuff
Tell your legislators to support Right to Repair reforms so that every consumer and every small business can have access to the parts, tools and service information they need to repair products.
Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair, U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Kevin helps run U.S. PIRG's Right to Repair campaign. He got his start as a Green Corps organizer, where he worked with Mighty Earth to call on Bridgestone to stop deforestation and human exploitation for natural rubber. He also led an effort to get a majority of both houses of the Massachusetts state Legislature to co-sponsor the 100% Renewable Energy Act. Kevin lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he enjoys reading, running and rooting for his Oakland A's from afar.