It Shouldn’t Cost the Farm to Fix a Tractor

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On TB every waking moment

It Shouldn’t Cost the Farm to Fix a Tractor

New ones require software that only authorized dealers are allowed to use.
By Kevin O’Reilly
March 23, 2021 6:17 pm ET

The equipment Barry Hovis uses on his small Cape Girardeau, Mo., cattle farm is a lot different from the tractor he learned to drive as a kid. Today’s equipment is chock full of modern technology designed to improve efficiency and increase yields. Those digital features, however, require digital tools to fix—tools that Mr. Hovis can’t buy. Modern tractor makers keep their software in house.

“I consider myself to be a bit of a handyman,” says Mr. Hovis, a Republican member of the Missouri House of Representatives. “When I tried to buy the software tools I needed to do simple things like sync a new part to my tractor, I came up empty. And because independent repair shops get the same treatment from manufacturers, I’m forced to turn to the dealer for repair.”

He isn’t the only frustrated farmer. Many are calling for “right to repair” laws requiring manufacturers to provide easy access to necessary tools, software, parts and documentation.

In a report for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group last month, I detailed how software tools have become instrumental to the repair process. With the proper software, farmers and technicians can identify an issue with a tractor, authorize the repair, and clear the error code generated. Without it, they’re forced to go to the dealer for help or turn to hacking the digital components in the tractor, which some argue violates the license they are required to sign at purchase.

Mr. Hovis can’t tinker himself or ask the local mechanic to come out and fix his tractor like in the old days. Instead he has to contract with one of two nearby dealerships that are authorized by the manufacturer to make the software fixes.

“When harvest season starts in southeast Missouri, everybody’s running multiple combines, tractors, everything. That means more breakdowns,” he said. “Our two dealerships’ service techs can’t keep up with the demand. Being a smaller farmer, I’m typically going to be the last guy on the list that gets the truck out to my house.”

Some farmers are choosing to forgo newer equipment altogether, instead opting for 30- or 40-year-old tractors they can keep running on their own. As a result, older machines are fetching high prices at auction. According to farm equipment data company Machinery Pete, the highest price a roughly 30-year-old John Deere tractor sold for in 1989 was a little over $7,200 in 2019 dollars. In 2019, a 1989 John Deere tractor sold for $71,000.

To Kris Folland, a Minnesota-based farmer, it makes simple financial sense to use older equipment. “They’ve stood the test of time, [are] well-built, easy to fix, and it’s easy to get parts,” Mr. Folland told the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis. “Older equipment is a way to reduce your cost per bushel to become more profitable.”

Reform may come soon. Mr. Hovis filed a right-to-repair bill in January. “To me this is a bipartisan issue. This is not about politics or anything like that,” he told me. Farmers in Florida, Montana and Nebraska are also pursuing legislative change, drawing support from state farm bureaus, farmers unions and lawmakers from both parties.

Legislators have an opportunity to come together across party lines and help farmers at a time when it is increasingly difficult to turn a profit tilling earth.

Mr. O’Reilly is a right-to-repair advocate with U.S. PIRG.

With nine kids, once had a herd of five autos on the road beside mine. Maintained them; rebuilt engines, carburetors etc. Fat chance now. I'd have trouble changing the oil.
 

Melodi

Disaster Cat
If there is a way around certain regulations, some small company is going to make a fortune going back to makeing very basic, easy to repair, ride-on tractors at a moderate cost. Even if they have to be fairly expensive at first (because they are specially built) if they can be repaired by the owner or a local shop, that will pay for itself in a few years.

The sort of farming equipment some people in Ireland still use and bring out every year at the plowing festivals - some of it is gasoline-powered, some of the really old stuff uses steam and horses as still popular for some times of machines in some areas (I gather this is having a revival in the US as well).
 

WalknTrot

Veteran Member
That's why a lot of farmers still run "old junk". Spend your day using it, and your nights fixing it. The new stuff is great....labor saving, and precise, but you sell your soul to the devil(s). The bank and the repairman.

Food in this country is still so dirt cheap it's a joke. How a farmer makes a nickel except on a rare year is beyond me at this point. If he got paid for what he had into it....well...I can hear the squeals and gnashing of teeth from here.

(Just came in from talking down the high-line right-of-way clearing boss from crossing the length of our alfalfa fields with their tracked swamp buggies and brush/tree grinders after 2-3 inches of rain and the spring breakup. Freeking hurricane-like out there - wind-driven rain/snow and I need a Bailey's hot toddy. But somebody has to speak for those pretty black beef factories who need hay, too. People like to eat.)
 

20Gauge

Has No Life - Lives on TB
That's why a lot of farmers still run "old junk". Spend your day using it, and your nights fixing it. The new stuff is great....labor saving, and precise, but you sell your soul to the devil(s). The bank and the repairman.

Food in this country is still so dirt cheap it's a joke. How a farmer makes a nickel except on a rare year is beyond me at this point. If he got paid for what he had into it....well...I can hear the squeals and gnashing of teeth from here.

(Just came in from talking down the high-line right-of-way clearing boss from crossing the length of our alfalfa fields with their tracked swamp buggies and brush/tree grinders after 2-3 inches of rain and the spring breakup. Freeking hurricane-like out there - wind-driven rain/snow and I need a Bailey's hot toddy. But somebody has to speak for those pretty black beef factories who need hay, too. People like to eat.)
To me, having a new item is often great, but there is a trade off.

Either use the old equipment and spend labor fixing it

or

Use new equipment and spend labor creating dollars to spend on buying / fixing it.

The question is what is better for you. Me often it is using old and fixing it.
 

Macgyver

Veteran Member
Didn't the auto manufacturers get their dicks smacked for this same thing years ago?
Isn't that why the obd2 protocol became standard so anyone can read a cars computer?
 

Dozdoats

On TB every waking moment
My grandfather and my father got tired of changing equipment so they got dedicated tractors for disking, bush hogging, planting and plowing. One setup for proper row spacing and done. Of course, all were old.
 

Raggedyman

Res ipsa loquitur
I hate all this new electronic stuff. Too old school I guess.
my father despised waste of ANY kind - but he especially despised it in a car. pop had a saying about what he called "all your fancy add on stuff" . . . in typical pop fashion it was very simple and very straight forward and it made a lot of sense . . . went something like this . . .

"see alla that fancy stuff? ya know what alla that is? its just more to rust, bust, collect dust, rip, ravel and warp" . . . it won't go any faster and it won't go any farther and it won't get ya there any cheaper . . . so why do ya need it? :lkick:
 

Dennis Olson

Chief Curmudgeon
_______________
Near as I can determine, there are no tractors necessary for a “cattle farm.” (In fact, the term is “cattle ranch,” and the misnomer calls the rest of the article into question.) That being said, “real” farm equipment that’s used to grow crops is often very complex, and thus expensive. But one can still buy an old Case tractor for a “cattle farm.”
 

Raggedyman

Res ipsa loquitur
To me, having a new item is often great, but there is a trade off.

Either use the old equipment and spend labor fixing it

or

Use new equipment and spend labor creating dollars to spend on buying / fixing it.

The question is what is better for you. Me often it is using old and fixing it.
Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without
.
watchwords of the great depression - I can remember my grandparents saying that.​
 

Capt. Eddie

Veteran Member
It's the same with the tier 4 Cat marine engines, you can physically change an injector yourself, but it won't function until a factory tech hooks a laptop up to it and tells it to recognize the new injector. Only official Cat techs have those laptops. The company I work for owns all or part of shipyards on three continents and they can't lay their hands on one.
 

Cacheman

Let's Go Brandon!
I know of a guy that has a 2+ year old tractor that cost over $100,000 and he's making about an $1100/mo payment on it but it hasn't run in over 5 months and can't get it fixed.

A chip is needed and none are available anyplace. Wouldn't matter who wants to fix this one.
 

WalknTrot

Veteran Member
Near as I can determine, there are no tractors necessary for a “cattle farm.” (In fact, the term is “cattle ranch,” and the misnomer calls the rest of the article into question.) That being said, “real” farm equipment that’s used to grow crops is often very complex, and thus expensive. But one can still buy an old Case tractor for a “cattle farm.”
He's obviously growing his own feed. Hay, haylage, corn, who knows. Can get pretty equipment intensive when it's done right.
 

Broken Arrow

Heathen Pagan Witch
Near as I can determine, there are no tractors necessary for a “cattle farm.” (In fact, the term is “cattle ranch,” and the misnomer calls the rest of the article into question.) That being said, “real” farm equipment that’s used to grow crops is often very complex, and thus expensive. But one can still buy an old Case tractor for a “cattle farm.”
Many cattle farms split their pasture between grazing ground and hay ground. Having a large tractor to pull seeders (alfalfa has to be replace periodically) mowers, rakes, balers, and bale pick up is a godsend to many. An old Case may be good for smaller hay pastures, but the huge ranches put several hundred acres under irrigated hay. Irrigated hay needs 3-5 cuttings a year depending on location and weather. With hopeful yeilds of multiple tons per acre. Necessitating the need for modern, high speed, efficient equipment.
 

Raggedyman

Res ipsa loquitur
I know of a guy that has a 2+ year old tractor that cost over $100,000 and he's making about an $1100/mo payment on it but it hasn't run in over 5 months and can't get it fixed.

A chip is needed and none are available anyplace. Wouldn't matter who wants to fix this one.
THAT IS SICK
 

Raggedyman

Res ipsa loquitur
Many cattle farms split their pasture between grazing ground and hay ground. Having a large tractor to pull seeders (alfalfa has to be replace periodically) mowers, rakes, balers, and bale pick up is a godsend to many. An old Case may be good for smaller hay pastures, but the huge ranches put several hundred acres under irrigated hay. Irrigated hay needs 3-5 cuttings a year depending on location and weather. With hopeful yeilds of multiple tons per acre. Necessitating the need for modern, high speed, efficient equipment.
bossman is pretty smart - knows all bout 'puters n such as that . . . hay and pasture and bales? I'm thinkin' not so much
 

Dennis Olson

Chief Curmudgeon
_______________
Many cattle farms split their pasture between grazing ground and hay ground. Having a large tractor to pull seeders (alfalfa has to be replace periodically) mowers, rakes, balers, and bale pick up is a godsend to many. An old Case may be good for smaller hay pastures, but the huge ranches put several hundred acres under irrigated hay. Irrigated hay needs 3-5 cuttings a year depending on location and weather. With hopeful yeilds of multiple tons per acre. Necessitating the need for modern, high speed, efficient equipment.
And that’s fine. Pay-up.
 

Publius

TB Fanatic
John Deere is making it very difficult to get your newest tractor fixed and first you have to get the equipment to the dealer that in it self can cost a farmer if it's a combine and then be without this equipment for up to three months until they feel like working on it and determine what the problem is. On the newer John Deere equipment you cannot replace so much as a censor with out addressing the onboard computer and giving it a code to work with the new part or part's.
With labor running will over a $120 an hour and they can somehow rack up 12 hour's or more on labor plus part's.
 

FireDance

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Near as I can determine, there are no tractors necessary for a “cattle farm.” (In fact, the term is “cattle ranch,” and the misnomer calls the rest of the article into question.) That being said, “real” farm equipment that’s used to grow crops is often very complex, and thus expensive. But one can still buy an old Case tractor for a “cattle farm.”
Yeah there is. Several I can think of off hand. Gotta bury the dead and so on. You’re stuck in a box on this one I’m afraid. Think more. (Silage, moving hay from one field to another, bush hog and so on). Not being ugly just live on one and see all sorts of tractors in use for all types of things.
 

Dennis Olson

Chief Curmudgeon
_______________
Yeah there is. Several I can think of off hand. Gotta bury the dead and so on. You’re stuck in a box on this one I’m afraid. Think more. (Silage, moving hay from one field to another, bush hog and so on). Not being ugly just live on one and see all sorts of tractors in use for all types of things.
And I believe that. I just don’t see the need for giant million dollar tractors. That’s my point.
 

FireDance

Has No Life - Lives on TB
And I believe that. I just don’t see the need for giant million dollar tractors. That’s my point.
No. They need production. It would be akin to you attempting to code on a tiny keyboard that never fit your hands.

With a HUGE tractor/bush hog setup, it still takes over 8 hours to get part of the job done. They come back the next day and spend as much time in the back portion of the field. I understand what you are saying, but it’s not reality on a large spread.

Sadly. This computerized BS has gone way too far. I remember when having air conditioning and a radio in your tractor was hot shit. Cars also. They’re ripping EVERYONE off. It needs to stop.
 

ShadowMan

Crusty ol' Codger
It depends on how much land you're farming/ranching. I knew farmers in Northeastern Colorado that farmed SECTIONS of land. (A section of land contains 640 acres. A section of land is 1 square mile.) And not just one or two, but a half a dozen to a dozen or more sections at a time. It was all dry land farming and all in wheat. Hard work and very risky. One storm could wipe out a years worth of work!

My ex-BIL (fourth or fifth generation farmer/rancher) ranched something like 15 sections....over 10,000 acres with cattle. Figure 10 square miles AND grew his own feed for his feed lot. WAAAAAAY TOOOOO much work, however he did grow some of the finest Black Angus you'd ever slap on a plate!!

I will agree that the older machines are a lot more reliable, less finicky and far far far more repairable. The new machines are really nice with lots of creature comforts, A/C, GPS and all the bells and whistles you could imagine, but LORD they are EXPENSIVE to buy, run and repair.
 

Freeholder

This too shall pass.
Dennis, the cost of the machines isn't the real issue here (although they are way too expensive). The issue, or the biggest part of it, is that the farmers/ranchers are dependent on the dealers to do the repairs, and can't be waiting months for the dealer to get around to their machine when they've got work waiting. Most farm work is very time and weather sensitive and when it needs to be done, it needs to be done NOW, not three months later when the dealer finally gets around to your machinery. They can lose an entire crop if the work doesn't get done on time.

Kathleen
 

Dennis Olson

Chief Curmudgeon
_______________
I understand that. My point on this thread is limited to “why isn’t he using an older, more modest tractor if he doesn’t have a ‘real’ farm?”

raising cattle is ranching, not farming.
 

DryCreek

Veteran Member
Near as I can determine, there are no tractors necessary for a “cattle farm.” (In fact, the term is “cattle ranch,” and the misnomer calls the rest of the article into question.) That being said, “real” farm equipment that’s used to grow crops is often very complex, and thus expensive. But one can still buy an old Case tractor for a “cattle farm.”
I've tried to pick up an 1800 pound round bale by hand. It's impossible.
So, I use our 2010 Kubota MX4700. One bale on the front, one on the rear. The smaller (and much newer) 2019 Branson struggles with one on the rear hay spear, but it really shines as my wife runs it with the spreader, following me around as I disc up a hay plot.
Our cows eat grass. So, I grow grass to feed the cows. Kind of a mashup between farming and ranching.
 

Freeholder

This too shall pass.
I understand that. My point on this thread is limited to “why isn’t he using an older, more modest tractor if he doesn’t have a ‘real’ farm?”

raising cattle is ranching, not farming.
Okay, but as others have already said, even ranchers often raise crops, even if it's only hay. Some of them also raise grains or other crops. Many of the cattle ranchers in the part of Eastern Oregon where we used to live raise alfalfa and grass hay, oats or wheat, potatoes, onions, and sometimes strawberry plants. Almost all of them raise hay for their own use and if they have a surplus, for sale; a lot of them also raise the other crops. So they have tractors and other farm equipment as needed for whatever they raise. In some areas cattle ranchers don't grow other crops because their ground isn't suitable for them, but wherever the soil and climate allow, it's very common for a farm to be mixed, raising both livestock and crops. That's true here in Kentucky, too -- my neighbors sometimes just raise cattle, sometimes just crops, but very often some of both, rotating their fields between tilled crops and semi-permanent pasture. It's not nearly as cut-and-dried one or the other as you think.

Kathleen
 

Dennis Olson

Chief Curmudgeon
_______________
I've tried to pick up an 1800 pound round bale by hand. It's impossible.
So, I use our 2010 Kubota MX4700. One bale on the front, one on the rear. The smaller (and much newer) 2019 Branson struggles with one on the rear hay spear, but it really shines as my wife runs it with the spreader, following me around as I disc up a hay plot.
Our cows eat grass. So, I grow grass to feed the cows. Kind of a mashup between farming and ranching.
Which was the point of my initial post. Doing what you’re doing doesn’t require a million dollar tractor.
 
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