Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Foreign Software


For instance, were you aware that some American farmers are purchasing software on the black market to hack into their own tractors?

It doesn't make much sense. Why would someone have to hack into his own property? According to VICE, John Deere has made its products in such a way that enables only its own technicians to make any repairs on the vehicles.

Only John Deere dealerships have the proper software to make diagnostics and authorize repairs for whatever issues a vehicle may be having. This poses a unique set of problems for farmers.

"When crunch time comes and we break down, chances are we don't have time to wait for a dealership employee to show up and fix it," Danny Kluthe, a hog farmer in Nebraska, told his state legislature in March 2017. "Most all the new equipment [requires] a download [to fix]."

Jason Koebler, author of the story for VICE, spoke with many farmers who are experiencing the same issue. The fear many of them have is that John Deere could remotely shut down their tractors, and they would have no recourse except to pay the dealerships money to get control back.

A license agreement John Deere required farmers to sign in October [2016] forbids nearly all repair and modification to farming equipment, and prevents farmers from suing for "crop loss, lost profits, loss of goodwill, loss of use of equipment … arising from the performance or non-performance of any aspect of the software." The agreement applies to anyone who turns the key or otherwise uses a John Deere tractor with embedded software. It means that only John Deere dealerships and "authorized" repair shops can work on newer tractors.

What many of these farmers say they see here is essentially a violation of their property rights.

"If a farmer bought the tractor, he should be able to do whatever he wants with it," said Kevin Kenney, a farmer and right-to-repair advocate in Nebraska.

You want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic—he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can't drive out of the shop. Deere charges $230, plus $130 an hour for a technician to drive out and plug a connector into their USB port to authorize the part.

So what’s now happening is that technicians are using cracked software from Eastern Europe to effectively circumvent John Deere’s control of the vehicles.

There's software out there a guy can get his hands on if he looks for it," a farmer and repair mechanic in Nebraska stated (he uses cracked software himself).

I'm not a big business or anything, but let's say you've got a guy here who has a tractor and something goes wrong with it—the nearest dealership is 40 miles away, but you've got me or a diesel shop a mile away. The only way we can fix things is illegally, which is what's holding back free enterprise more than anything and hampers a farmer's ability to get stuff done, too.

Koebler went online and looked for forums where farmers could gain access to their own tractors. When he finally got in, he found dozens of farmers posting about how desperate they were to simply repair their own vehicles, and many forum posts included links to software, mostly from Eastern Europe, and special parts needed to access the tractor’s computer software.

If a farmer has to hire an expensive dealership to fix his equipment, that raises his cost of doing business. If his costs go up, he must raise his prices to offset that. The higher prices are then passed along to the rest of us, the consumer.

Right-to-repair legislation has stalled though, in spite of the fact that many farmers simply want the ability to legally fix their own property. Some states’ bills on the subject have even earned the opposition of companies like Apple, which is not on board with the idea of people aside from the manufacturer making repairs to the devices.

The future of the bills is unclear at this point, but whichever way they go farmers will likely continue to seek out ways to repair their own vehicles in one way or another.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Let us know below!