Agrarian life is often painted as a simpler, uncomplicated way to spend your days, but it turns out even that symbol of the heartland, the tractor, is now just another reminder that our fate is often not in our hands.
Modern tractors, according to a National Public Radio report, are now just one more device that contains proprietary software and high-tech gadgetry as necessary as the tractor’s engine in getting the job done. While farmers are free to fiddle with the mechanical aspects of the machinery, they aren’t supposed to fool with the software, such as the GPS that allows combines to guide themselves during the harvest. Tractor OEMs put up electronic partitions to keep software functions of new tractors, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, under their control.
According to the report, though, farmers are starting to try to find hacks and workarounds to fix tractors in which software programs have gone awry. As you might expect, their motivation is cost savings. Help can sometimes be found on the internet from other countries where it’s legal to fix your own tractor software.
Forcing farmers to break the rules because of the way the game is set up has motivated lawmakers in eight states to consider requiring manufacturers to sell repair software, not just for tractors but for other electronics-heavy appliances and devices as well.
Text by Dave Helms