Who owns your tractor?

Who owns your tractor?

Recently, Deere & Co.--the company that manufactures John Deere farming equipment--struck a deal with Monsanto in order to use both hardware and software from a subsidiary company called Precision Planting LLC.

These components, added to tractors and combines, wirelessly transmit data on things like soil, crop performance, and regional weather to Monsanto’s Climate Corp. unit.

This is the age of digital agriculture, where technology mediates many decision-making processes. In many ways, these kinds of technologies will make agriculture more efficient, making more rational and precise decisions than a human could alone. However, there are challenges lurking for farmers looking at high-tech equipment, particularly for smaller-scale producers. 

Wired magazine recently described these computerized tractors as a “nightmare” for farmers. With so much proprietary software on board, things like error codes and bum sensors need to be fixed by licensed dealers or mechanics, and too much tinkering bought-and-paid-for equipment has the potential to void a warranty on a machine that costs more than a couple of automobiles. Farmers who do manage to “jailbreak” the software on their own tractors in order to run diagnostics and re-calibrate hardware or software are in a legal grey areas as far as copyright goes.

For a farmer that appreciates the DIY side of working the land, buying an older machine is a no-brainer. There is no need for diagnostic software, and no need to wait days for a licensed technician with an IT background to come in and fix the machine when things go south, as they inevitably will with time.

Older machines--strictly mechanical--are more straightforward, and there there are no copyright risks that come in trying to make repairs on your own. They are also less expensive, and aren’t sending data out into the ether.

A tractor which has software--and data--on board that is owned by the manufacturer isn't ever truly “owned” by the farmer: purchasing one of these machines means the farmer owns the metal and most of the moving parts, but not necessarily the right to use the machine as she pleases.

Older, non-computerized machines are one hundred percent owned by the farmer upon purchase, and are a better choice for the farmer that is interested in being able to tinker with and repair equipment as necessary.

And with Ag Manuals, tinkering is always an accessible option!

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