Modern farm equipment has no farmer-servicable parts inside


#1

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#2

Open Hardware Farming equipment must be developed, this kind of “defective by design” equipment must go.


#3

I don’t have enough likes for this.

An alternative is a set of aftermarket modkits that take the existing “iron” and replace the electronics with accessible, ownable one.

Examples for the engine control units here:
http://hackaday.com/2014/03/29/frankenstein-the-open-source-engine-control-unit/
http://ecuproject.com/
http://www.openecu.org/
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/312898525/rusefi-gpl-automotive-engine-control-unit-ecu-firm

This tear-out-and-replace approach, hand in hand with greymarket (and even blackmarket, why not?) maintenance hardware/software, looks to me like a viable set of ways.

We have a lot of cheap, generic, all-purpose controller electronics out there, just add the actuator drivers and software. Let’s use it.

And we aren’t alone. The farm equipment manufacturers and car vendors aren’t on our side. The chip vendors, however, are; Freescale as an example here:
An Open Source, Off-the-Shelf Powertrain Platform: Four-Cylinder Reference Design.


#4

Welcome to most of the arguments between my father ( who was a mechanic in the 70s ) and my brother ( who is a mechanic right now ) : The former can’t seem to understand why the latter keep replacing whole parts when the parts themselves could be fixed…

I guess that’s also why my car doesn’t have any electronics beyond the radio…


#5

I wonder if this explains why, when I needed a small tractor for my new place, older ones were more expensive than new ones. And maybe also why the nicest farm in my area works their land with a horse.


#6

I’d be interested to know what the numbers are for smaller farming operations, run by individuals or families that would benefit from this sort of hackable equipment vs. large scale, corporate run operations (Monsanto or what have you) who probably wouldn’t care either way, because they got the non-hackable equipment cheap because of some deal between the two corporations in the first place. I’d suspect that part of the reason so much equipment now is closed in this way is because big concerns like Monsanto demand it that way.

All those links look really interesting. But there is also the solution of having old school basic farm equipment. Once you involve computers in this way, you can more easily make it a closed, non-hackable device.


#7

“In a September issue of Farm Journal, farm auction expert Greg Peterson noted that demand for newer tractors was falling. Tellingly, the price of and demand for older tractors (without all the digital bells and whistles) has picked up.”


#8

The family farm is mostly a myth. Family farmers are trotted out when megacorps go hat in hand to beg for socialism for the wealthy but they are rarer after every crop failure or insect infestation. These tractors are built for the typical corporate customer, not those problematic bailing wire farmers.
I remember in eastern Oregon the most common combination was a 1/2M$ harvester driven by an underpaid illegal Mexican immigrant who can be disposed of for any reason and had no labor rights, disposable, deniable, and ICE threaten-able employees.
If you think closed source tractors are the problem in farming then you can’t see the illegal immigrant problem destroying the labor market.


#9

@Mindysan33 dunno if its always the case but as I understand it those large industrial farms are often independently owned an operated. Rather than directly owned by large corporations. They typically grow on a contract to your large agribusinesses. Monsanto wouldn’t necessarily be ones of them. Monsanto produces seed and agricultural chemicals (fertilizer, pesticides etc). Not products and food actually raised on the farms it sells to. In that case your talking about ConAgra, Tyson and the like.

@dobby The family farm is hardly a myth. There aren’t many (any that I can think of) non-family farms in my area (Long Island). As side from sod farms and the cut flower/nursery business; which are usually relatively small, privately held companies. The only truly corporate own “farm” I can think of was a greenhouse operation growning organic micro greens and hydroponic vegetables. They were a subsidiary of a Dutch greenhouse company, I think they’ve been shut down. The guy running their business over here got caught raising pot. Monoculture farms are also pretty out of the ordinary here, aside from sod farms and technically speaking vineyards.

@ixcheldelgato The farmers by me, for decades really, have been using smaller, often vintage tractors. You occasionally see a newish John Deer, but the last time I saw that it was at one of the handful of sod farms in the area (a terrible, environmentally damaging, waste of land that we should get rid of). For the most part Long Island doesn’t really have the vast chunks of land needed for the sort of HUGE monoculture operations you see else where. A lot of the newer and flashier farm equipment is designed an geared at these big operations. When your entire farm is the size of one corn field in the Midwest you don’t really need (nor could you practically use) a combine the size of a house. So the vintage tractor has kind of been the default here since the 90’s. The standard is a 70’s International Harvester. And its not just the machines, most of the irrigation equipment and what have is pretty damn old out here too. As I understand it was initially about the size of the equipment and its varied use, Europe makes a lot of smaller multi-purpose tractors and what have, but they’re less available here. From what I’ve been told you just couldn’t get smaller machines that were worth the cost. I’m sure the increasingly proprietary, computer run nature of it has only exacerbated the issue. Though new Bobcats and Kubotas are also pretty popular out here. I’ve seen pretty similar trends in other areas. Like in central Maine, where I have family.


#10

My guess is that the Big Ones don’t demand things to be closed (nobody sane would say “please don’t allow me repairing my stuff”), but they don’t mind enough; then the vendors see the opportunity to milk the Big Ones and make it impossible to repair in an in-house shop. The Big Ones then just shell out a bit more. The Little Ones are the ones caught in between and, in effect, royally screwed.

True as well. The old has the advantage of being repairable in a conventional machine shop. That however has the cost of giving up the benefits of the technology (better fuel economy, better control and adjustability…). The opensource-computers for running the machines seem to me as the best of both worlds, with the old machinery being a second-best and not-user-serviceable “modern” ones as a distant third choice (which can be elevated to the first-or-second by aftermarket mods or greymarket maintenance hardware that returns the access rights where they belong).


#11

I don’t know… I think that it’s sold as a convenience. I read a book a while ago about this sort of thing, regarding health insurance of all things, where big industrial operations basically got into bed with growing insurance companies in order to keep the state out of health care (this was in the 20s, prior to the new deal in the US) and as a way to shut down competition from unions and ethnic-based organizations that offered people insurance, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility for large farming corporations to get together with vendors for farm equipment and decide it’s just easier to have the vendor do all the work regarding repair, etc, without it being a big conspiracy. It’s more about trying to shut down competition, whether that’s from the state or member-type organizations.

That’s likely true. I’d personally like to see a multiplicity of answers. I don’t think there is a singular answer for these questions of how computers will fit into our lives in the future. I’d hate to see old technologies that worked perfectly well go by the wayside permanently. But I don’t want to fetishize mechanical technology either.


#12

this is about anti-competition. Free marketers like to talk about how competition is better for the consumer but that’s just a ruse to return to the lawless wild west of exploitation.


#13

In my area (inland upper Left coast), it is not uncommon for even mid-sized family farmers of, say, a couple thousand acres to either lease tractors or buy new/trade-in every few years. I imagine one reason they choose to do this is breakdowns are crazy expensive in terms of opportunity cost, so they try never to break down by operating nearly new equipment.


#14

This sort of thing makes me insane. I am a potter and an art teacher. The pottery wheels I bought 15 years ago were easy for me to maintain and repair. Totally straight forward wiring, easy to order parts. About 5 years ago the small independant company that makes the wheels sold out to a big company and now the new wheels all have these horrible proprietary plug things and non-standard connectors that you can’t service at all. If something goes wrong you can’t replace or repair just that part, for example: if something broke inside the foot pedal I used to be able to replace just the broken part, now I have to replace the whole foot pedal.

It was foolish of the company, I used to have a lot of loyalty to this brand. In part I was loyal because I had amassed a lot of repair skill unique to their product. Now that those skills are useless a lot of my loyalty is gone, I won’t be buying that brand any more, you can be sure.


#15

Don’t worry… The historical documentary, Interstellar, shows us that these folks must win the good fight because McConaughey is able to totally hack his harvesters.



#16

Black-boxed combines is the tip of the agricultural iceberg. The ag-sector is all about giant mono-culture farms, dependencies on genetically derived seed/chemicals, non-farmer controlled markets, unjustifiable subsidies, manufacturer consolidation, and this: automation.

This is one of those areas where full automation is well advanced; future ‘farmers’ will be wage-earners monitoring fields remotely from cubicle offices in Moose Jaw and Duluth. A.I. cometh. It is the right hand of global corp.


#17

You’re just talking about what a myth is. Well, it is a rhetorical device. If you look at the details: yes, you’ve got big producers like Cargill, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Farms, etc. (Not Monsanto, they make seed and pesticide and we all know about those issues!) They produce meat, and feed for livestock, some are also diversified into all kinds of other agribusiness, and some are multinational. On the other hand you have so many specialty products, or even just everyday things like peanuts and peanut butter, say. Not as much demand for it as chicken or beef, but it’s a fairly big business that supports a good number of peanut farmers that are not giant corporations. And then you have odd balls: how about Land O’Lakes, it’s a huge dairy producer, and a member-owned cooperative. It has a “corporate headquarters” but also might be thought of as family farmers in an area who are working together cooperatively. Ocean Spray, is another one - somewhat smaller, I think. In reality, it’s more complicated than it’s a myth or it’s not a myth.


#18

European here. Pretty much all farms in the UK are ‘family’ run, larger ones will often have a farm manager running the day to day operations. My Dad and Brother run ours. We supply a small local dairy who have been run by the same family since it started in the early 1900’s. Before that we supplied a farmers owned cooperative, which is one of the largest dairy businesses in the UK. The real issue is the power the major supermarkets exert over pricing, they have such control over the market.

As for the machinery I only have experience on the smaller end of things. Dairy farms typically don’t have large kit, we’ve stuck with 90-100hp tractors for some years. There seems to be a push by the manufacturers to make even the smaller tractors more complicated and cheaply made. We’ve had many reliability issues with newer Tractors where the 10 year old one keeps on working hard. We have Valtras, which were bought out by the AGCO giant some years ago. I suspect they forced the smaller manufacturer to make more profit.

Complicated machines are typically dealer serviced as they have the knowledge to work on them and fix it quickly, which is very important. Farmers aren’t also known for a delicate repair (!) & there are usually other things that need to be done.

Adding computers isn’t necessarily doom. They can add very useful features, such as GPS guidance when planting/fertilising/spraying etc, which improves accuracy and helps to lessen overspray or other problems.


#19

Sell a man a fish; he eats for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you ruin a wonderful business opportunity.

– Karl Marx


#20

I imagine the Big Ag farms have manufacturer-certified or -run shops, complete with comprehensive service contracts. Any place with a big expensive specialized fleet probably does — I doubt Boeing drops off a shipment of planes to American Airlines with “Instructions are in the glove box, good luck!”