While modern agriculture is filled with very modern technology, farmers have been butting heads with some of the biggest farm equipment builders over tech issues, specifically the fight for their own rights to repair equipment they own. This has led to strange, maybe not-so-legal hacking of farmers’ own equipment with the help of Eastern European hackers, and, now, more legally, to farmers just avoiding all the high-tech headaches entirely and just buying tractors from the late ‘70s and 1980s.
According to the Star Tribune, pre-1990 tractors have been selling for higher prices at auction, and demand for the older tractors has been increasing. The Star Tribune story gives some pretty clear reasons why:
Kris Folland grows corn, wheat and soybeans and raises cattle on 2,000 acres near Halma in the northwest corner of Minnesota, so his operation is far from small. But when he last bought a new tractor, he opted for an old one — a 1979 John Deere 4440.
He retrofitted it with automatic steering guided by satellite, and he and his kids can use the tractor to feed cows, plant fields and run a grain auger. The best thing? The tractor cost $18,000, compared to upward of $150,000 for a new tractor. And Folland doesn’t need a computer to repair it.
The tractors have enough horsepower to do anything most farmers need, and even at a record price like the $61,000 the tractor in Bingham Lake fetched, they’re a bargain compared to what a farmer would pay for a newer tractor with similar horsepower.
The other big draw of the older tractors is their lack of complex technology. Farmers prefer to fix what they can on the spot, or take it to their mechanic and not have to spend tens of thousands of dollars.
“The newer machines, any time something breaks, you’ve got to have a computer to fix it,” Stock said.
Modern tractors are incredibly sophisticated and expensive machines, with lots of very advanced technologies for operation and control, but the fundamental mechanical design hasn’t changed all that dramatically since the 1980s.
In much the same way that a 1966 Volkswagen Beetle can get your ass to and from work at generally the same sort of speeds as a 2019 Volkswagen Passat, on the exact same roads, using the same basic principles, a 40-year-old tractor does essentially the same job as a modern one, at a fraction of the cost, and with the ability to effect repairs without involving John Deere reps to come out with a USB key or enlisting the help of Ukranian hackers.
What would be interesting is if one of John Deere’s competitors were to look at this and see an opportunity for lower-tech but still useful modern tractors, sold at a price well below what a modern, CPU-choked Deere goes for. Perhaps Mahindra & Mahindra or Case or one of the other big tractor makers will wise up?
With less regulations than the automotive world, and with a significant portion of the potential market actively hostile to massive increases in tech, you’d think this could be a good idea.
To be fair, though, I don’t know jack feces about farming. But I do know it’d drive me up the wall if I legally wasn’t allowed to repair a vehicle I owned.