Ifixit's Kyle Wiens writes about the state of modern farm equipment, "black boxes outfitted with harvesting blades," whose diagnostic modes are jealously guarded, legally protected trade secrets, meaning that the baling-wire spirit of the American farm has been made subservient to the needs of multinational companies' greedy desire to control the repair and parts markets.
Wiens's editorial follows Ifixit's petition to the Copyright Office to grant an exemption to the DMCA, which potentially makes it a felony to fix your own car. Petitions were filed on Friday afternoon, and now the Copyright Office is deliberating about which ones it will grant.
The problem is that farmers are essentially driving around a giant black box outfitted with harvesting blades. Only manufacturers have the keys to those boxes. Different connectors are needed from brand to brand, sometimes even from model to model—just to talk to the tECU. Modifications and troubleshooting require diagnostic software that farmers can’t have. Even if a farmer managed to get the right software, calibrations to the tECU sometimes require a factory password. No password, no changes—not without the permission of the manufacturer.
John Deere, in particular, has been incredibly effective at limiting access to its diagnostic software. Which is why I wouldn’t have been able to tweak the programming on Dave’s tractor, even if I had been able to hack together the right interface. John Deere doesn’t want me to. The dealer-repair game is just too lucrative for manufacturers to cede any control back to farmers.
After a second swear-word-inducing attempt to monkey around in the code that fuels Dave’s computer, I started wondering how other farmers were dealing with the increasingly cloaked and proprietary nature of modern farming.
My failure with Dave’s tractor got me fired up. I started lurking in ag forums, talking to my farmer friends, and hanging out in diesel repair shops. I found out that farmers aren’t taking the limitations lying down. There’s a thriving grey-market for diagnostic equipment and proprietary connectors. Some farmers have even managed to get their hands on the software they need to re-calibrate and repair equipment on their own—a laptop purchased from some nameless friend-of-a-friend with the software already loaded on it. There are even ways to get around the factory passwords that block access to the tECU to effect repairs.
New High-Tech Farm Equipment Is a Nightmare for Farmers [Kyle Wiens/Wired]
(Thanks, Katie Lynn Daniels!)