Farmers have to hack their own tractors to keep them running

Farmers have to hack their own tractors to keep them running

February 25, 2021

Yes, you've read that right. Farmers are required to hack their own equipment, just to keep it running. Companies, such as John Deere, aren't willing to license out the software necessary to diagnose and fix their farm equipment. This forces owners to source that software online.Farmers say that they need to be able to repair their own equipment on their own terms - either themselves or through independent mechanics - as they have always done.

"In the old days, you needed a wrench, a hammer, and a pry bar," engineer Kevin Kenney says. "Today, they have invented firmware all over these equipment systems, so you need to have software just to get it started, activated and calibrated."

That software is where the conflict lies. The companies that made it would rather keep it to themselves so customers have to return for repairs and maintenance. Owners who just need their equipment to work claim that when they bought a tractor, that should mean that they bought the whole tractor - including the right to fix their own stuff.

"On the farm, we run things until they're dead, and then we run them a little bit more after that," farmer Tom Schwarz explaines. "We don't dispose of things here. It's important to us as farmers in order to keep our costs down."So, for the same reasons why some farmers are turning back to older, simpler equipment that's easier to repair, other farmers are pirating tractor firmware just to keep their more modern equipment running. Pirating farm equipment software currently exists in a grey area, as land vehicles were exempted from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 2015. Even though that means hacking your own tractor is not illegal, that doesn't mean it's easy to do.

The pirated tractor firmware still goes through a black market of paid, invite-only forums. Much of it comes from Eastern Europe, and the sites themselves can be hard to access. Once there, farmers can find the electronic data link servers, diagnostic programs, license key generators, speed-limit modifiers and even reverse-engineered cables they need to keep their equipment running."If a farmer out here can fix something through his own ingenuity, I think he should be able to do so," Schwarz explained. "And bluntly, I think that's the way it should be whether we're talking about tractors, cell phones or computers."


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