Sunday, April 28, 2019

"U.S. Farmers Are Being Bled by the Tractor Monopoly" (DE)

From Bloomberg:
The unpredictable weather in southern Minnesota means that spring planting season is brief and often frantic, sometimes requiring 24-hour shifts if the weather requires it. Farmers who want to get their crops in the ground can't afford to waste an hour.

So when John Nauerth III, a farmer in remote Jackson, had trouble with his tractor last spring, he was worried. In years past, he told me over the phone, he might've diagnosed and fixed the problem with a screwdriver, or called a local mechanic.

But as tractors become as complex as Teslas, agricultural equipment manufacturers and their authorized dealerships are using technology as an excuse to force farmers to use the authorized service center - and only the authorized service center - for repairs. That's costing farmers - and independent repair shops - dearly.

Nauerth, under pressure to plant, waited a costly "two or three hours" for an authorized dealer to show up at his farm to plug in a computer and diagnose the problem. Worse, the dealer didn't have the repair part - and independent repair shops, excluded from the repair monopoly, didn't either.
"Right now, you're at the mercy of the dealers," Nauerth said.   "Good thing is we figured out a way to get it running with a two-by-six piece of plywood."

Other American farmers are just as frustrated as he is at being funneled into the authorized repair services that can't meet demand, especially when they are already struggling against economic headwinds. Across rural America, they are seeking relief, sometimes by joining so called "tractorhacking" collectives that override manufacturer-installed software locks, and - increasingly - by backing so-called Fair Repair (or Right to Repair) bills that would require manufacturers of everything from tractors to smartphones to open up their repair monopolies to competition by providing equal access to service manuals, diagnostic tools and parts.

Twenty U.S. states are currently considering versions of Fair Repair, and Minnesota - which is likely to debate the legislation in its House of Representatives in coming weeks - is a frontrunner to pass it first.
U.S. consumers may be unaware of the farmers’ plight, but many people have had similar experiences with their automobiles. It wasn't so long ago that American driveways were filled with DIY mechanics performing oil changes, brake jobs and other basic maintenance. What the hobbyist mechanic couldn't do at home, a plethora of independent repair shops could do, instead.
As cars became more like computers, manufacturers and their dealerships began to restrict independent repair shops from obtaining diagnostic equipment, maintenance guides and other essential service materials. If you've ever had to pay a car dealership to reset a light or sensor because an independent garage didn't have the equipment or diagnostics, you've experienced what it's like to be a farmer with a malfunctioning tractor.

It's not cheap. In Nebraska, an independent mechanic can replace a John Deere Co tractor transmission. But if the farmer wants to drive it out of the mechanic's garage, a Deere technician must be hired for $230, plus $130 per hour, to show up to plug a computer into the tractor to authorize the part, according to Motherboard....MORE
This is a major story and not just for farmers and people who eat food.
"Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Ukrainian Firmware" (DE)
April 2015
John Deere Tells Patent Office That Purchasers Don't Actually Own the Machine They Paid For (DE)
 May 2015 
"John Deere Clarifies: It's Trying To Abuse Copyright Law To Stop You From Owning Your Own Tractor... Because It Cares About You" (DE)
November 2016 
For the Next Two Years Auto Manufacturers Can't Have You Arrested...
...for trying to repair or modify the software on your own car.
March 2018 
"The Right to Repair Battle Has Come to Silicon Valley"
You didn't thinks all those posts on John Deere and "Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc." were simply about tractors and textbooks did you? I mean, sure they were, but they were also about whether you own the stuff you buy and if the Supreme Court would uphold the First Sale Doctrine.
Oct. 2018
A Major Win For the Right to Repair Your Own Stuff (AAPL; DE)
We've chronicled how manufacturers, most egregiously John Deere of all people, have been inserting clauses into purchase agreements that basically state, errrmmm, that you didn't actually purchase anything more than a service.
The U.S. copyright office would beg to differ with the manufacturers on one weapon they've been using....
"The 'Right to Repair' Movement Is Gaining Ground and Could Hit Manufacturers Hard"
What started as a single observation has become a series, this manufacturer's claim that when you buy their product you've actually just entered into some sort of neo-feudal lease arrangement, some links below....