This piece originally appeared in Reason.
Discussions about the repairability of high-tech devices tend to focus on mass-market products: smartphones, laptops, video game consoles, and other commonplace devices. Less apparent is the repairability of tractors, cultivators, combines, and other heavy agricultural equipment that are equally reliant on computers and software. As with smartphone or laptop repairs, farmers and right-to-repair advocates have long complained that agricultural equipment manufacturers have used software to lock owners out of their products. To combat such restrictions, farmers and white-hat hackers have joined in an unlikely alliance to "liberate the tractors."
As with other types of hardware, such as smart cars, the "techiness" of heavy agricultural machinery has become an impediment to meaningful ownership. Now, companies such as John Deere have vertically integrated the entire ecosystem for equipment, requiring customers to purchase repair services exclusively from dealers and using software to prevent independent repairs.
Whenever software has been used to prevent the owners of products from altering or repairing their property, groups of ideologically driven individuals have used their skills to circumvent such constraints. Agricultural equipment is no different, and hackers have taken it upon themselves to "jailbreak" or open up the closed software systems that prevent independent repairs. In the words of one such hacker, "We want farmers to be able to repair their stuff for when things go wrong, and now that means being able to repair or make decisions about the software in their tractors."