Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Old Tractors and Too Much Technology

Instead of buying new tractors, many US farmers are scouring estate sales for older models without the GPS units and other high tech:
Tractors manufactured in the late 1970s and 1980s are some of the hottest items in farm auctions across the Midwest these days — and it’s not because they’re antiques.

Cost-conscious farmers are looking for bargains, and tractors from that era are well-built and totally functional, and aren’t as complicated or expensive to repair as more recent models that run on sophisticated software.

“It’s a trend that’s been building. It’s been interesting in the last couple years, which have been difficult for ag, to see the trend accelerate,” said Greg Peterson, the founder of Machinery Pete, a farm equipment data company in Rochester with a website and TV show.

“There’s an affinity factor if you grew up around these tractors, but it goes way beyond that,” Peterson said. “These things, they’re basically bulletproof. You can put 15,000 hours on it and if something breaks you can just replace it.” . . .

The other big draw of the older tractors is their lack of complex technology. Farmers prefer to fix what they can on the spot, or take it to their mechanic and not have to spend tens of thousands of dollars.

“The newer machines, any time something breaks, you’ve got to have a computer to fix it,” Stock said.

There are some good things about the software in newer machines, said Peterson. The dealer will get a warning if something is about to break and can contact the farmer ahead of time to nip the problem in the bud. But if something does break, the farmer is powerless, stuck in the field waiting for a service truck from the dealership to come out to their farm and charge up to $150 per hour for labor.

“That goes against the pride of ownership, plus your lifetime of skills you’ve built up being able to fix things,” Peterson said.
Whenever I read about one of these disconnects between what companies are selling and what buyers want, I wonder what is behind it. I suspect in this case that the market the manufacturers want is the high-end one, where they probably make ten times the profit per machine they do on basic models. Enough buyers want the cutting edge to make that a decent strategy. A basic machine, after all, would just be in competition with all the used ones out there, a supply that has probably been jacked up by ongoing consolidation.

I am no Luddite, but I have myself wished dozens of times for the old, simpler technology rather than the latest buggy version. Why can't I buy it?


G. Verloren said...

"Whenever I read about one of these disconnects between what companies are selling and what buyers want, I wonder what is behind it."

It's planned obsolesence, plain and simple.

People figured out a long time ago that if you make durable goods that last for decades or generations, you can't milk your customers for more money. The more frequently a product needs to be replaced, the more frequently you make sales. Besides, making shoddier products costs less than making ones that last.

The same mentality also applies with repairs. If a customer can do their own repairs, they have no reason to pay you to do repairs - so make your products as difficult to repair as you can get away with. If people lack either the time, the expertise, or the specialized equipment required to perform repairs, they have little choice but to line your pockets with their money.

We live a society where personal ownership is being eroded in favor of perpetual "renting". No one wants to sell products anymore - they want to sell services. Because why sell something only once, when you can sell it indefinitely?

People used to own things like music collections in the form of vinyl records - now they merely have access to digital services that they pay monthly fees to maintain, ad infinitum. Before, you paid once and had the music you bought to listen to freely forever. Now, you pay over and over again for the same music, and if you ever stop paying the music gets taken away. Or even if you do keep paying, if the company providing the service goes out of business, the music disappears.

The corporations want us to pay rent for everything, always, forever. And we're letting them shape the world to fit that demented desire.

JustPeachy said...

My brother, who repairs appliances for a living, wants nothing to do with any kind of "smart" machinery. He says, when your standard old-school Maytag washer or dryer stops working, it's usually just a little switch or fuse or heating element that can be easily bypassed or replaced, by anyone with a basic set of tools, a $15 part, and a youtube how-to video. Newer washers? Most of what breaks is the circuitboard, which costs so much to replace, that 90% of the time you may as well just buy a new washer. same for all those smartypants fridges, ovens, etc. It may save you a miniscule amount of energy and time, but it won't last nearly as long, and it'll cost a fortune to repair or replace.

High end is nice, of course, but for the 70% of us who don't have that kind of disposable income, low-tech is better.

G. Verloren said...


"High end is nice, of course, but for the 70% of us who don't have that kind of disposable income, low-tech is better."

This is true, but sadly it's not how most people think.

American consumerism pressures the majority who lack an ample disposeable income to spend money as if they did anyway, in order to keep up with the Joneses. It's not about having nice high end things for their own sake, it's about conspicuous consumption as an attempt to signify one's imagined societal status and worth.

Most people don't buy "luxury" items to actually make their life more luxurious - they buy them to make other people THINK their life is more luxurious, when often the extra expense and hassle actually makes their lives harder.

JustPeachy said...


Heh. When I allow myself to start thinking about the habits of "most people" I get depressed about the future of humanity. My brother says on his repair calls, he finds it bizarre that no matter where he goes-- million-dollar mansion or single-wide trailer-- everybody has the exact same appliances, and the exact same giant flat screen TV.

I guess if good sense ever becomes trendy, I won't be able to buy my 20-year-old washer off Craigslist for $50 anymore, so on some level, I should be grateful.