About a year ago, I found out about a community of farmers who trade firmware hacks for John Deere tractors on forums and torrent sites. These aren’t criminals; they’re average farmers who are frustrated with and increasingly economically destroyed by the fact that Deere and other big agriculture companies have monopolized the repair of their tractors.
Proprietary software locks prevent the average farmer and mechanic from diagnosing problems with their equipment, and many parts cannot be replaced unless software locks are bypassed to enable the replacement part. The forums I found were interesting, but there’s only so much reporting you can do from a computer and telephone in New York.
Motherboard went to Nebraska to meet the farmers on the frontline of the right to repair movement, which operates under the principle that if you buy something, you should be able to do whatever you want to it, including fix it when it breaks. Some farmers, like Kyle Schwarting, have taken matters into their own hands: They find pirated software that allows them to fix their equipment today. Meanwhile, other farmers have pushed for legislation that would require John Deere and other manufacturers to sell replacement parts, make repair guides available, and distribute diagnostic software that will once again empower farmers to fix their tractors.