40-year-old tractors are now a hot commodity

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.

“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.”

BigIron Auctions, a Nebraska-based dealer that auctioned 3,300 pieces of farm equipment online in two days last month, sold 27 John Deere 4440 tractors through 2019.

The model, which Deere built between 1977 and 1982 at a factory in Waterloo, Iowa, was the most popular of the company’s “Iron Horse” series of tractors, which used stronger and heavier internal components to support engines with greater horsepower. The tractors featured big, safe cabins, advancing a design first seen in the 1960s that is now standard.

A sale of one of those tractors in good condition with low hours of use — the tractors typically last for 12,000 to 15,000 hours — will start a bidding war today. A 1980 John Deere 4440 with 2,147 hours on it sold for $43,500 at a farm estate auction in Lake City in April. A 1979 John Deere 4640 with only 826 hours on it sold for $61,000 at an auction in Bingham Lake in August.

Maybe there is a great tractor stagnation or in some cases even retrogression?  Here is more from Adam Belz, via Naju Mancheril.

Comments

This looks like it's related to right-to-repair: companies may be intentionally adding *too many* features to products, not because consumers demand it, but because adding complexity makes it to where consumers can't repair the product themselves, and thus the company can make money not just on the initial sale, but also on repairs for years afterwards.

Which is in turn part of the larger economic shift from selling primarily commodities to selling primarily services. It isn't hard to imagine a future in which the initial car/tractor/whatever is free but the company has a monopoly on all service/maintenance/upgrades. Many businesses have exactly that model (though not yet for items as large as tractors).

The idea is to turn all products into subscriptions services even when it isn't called for (John Deere as a service, anybody?). This is the end point of 21st century capitalism and its greatest irony. No ownership of anything. Private ownership will be dead for the many but absolute ownership will be in the hands of the few. This is how the few will exercise control over the masses for maximum rent-seeking. Neofeudalism here we come.

It's arguably better for consumers if you can walk away from the service product if/when you're no longer happy with it. Lower cost switching between brands seems like a good thing.

Don't think that just because one can stop paying a subscription means switching costs are low. Many complicated industrial products sold on a subscription basis have many compliments that form an ecosystem that makes it challenging to change. And sellers of the XaaS products are well aware of this and play the game well. Things like (maybe contrived, but): One brand of tractor has a crop-row width of X, and another of X', so the farmer has to redo the field layout as well.

Yes, switching costs are high. I believe business software has gone this route. In fact, I think my kids gaming software is mostly subscription based. I should look into it - I am paying the bill.

Presumably the hook here is that the "as a service" companies can offer lower initial cost, because they'll make it up on fees over time. Sort-of like printer manufacturers that sell you the printer at a loss and then make it up on overpriced cartridges.

You got the logic backwards.

The cheap printer / expensive ink model is a benefit to consumers, not the company. It works because most consumers don't print much, so they don't buy ink very often. It works for the company because they sell more printers - who's going to buy a $300 printer if you only use it five times a year? The high ink price lowers the overall cost and distributes the cost over a much longer time, making it way cheaper for the average consumer.

Heavy users buy more expensive printers with lower cost ink/ribbon because it's worthwhile for them to pay a higher upfront cost.

Big business has access to almost zero-cost credit through the banking system while consumer credit is more and more harshly regulated and largely inaccessible to half the population since the 2008 crisis.

So any business that can shift to periodic payments instead of selling goods can make massive profits by selling its access to the banking system to consumers and small businesses that are either locked out or subject to massively higher rates.

Therefore we should expect more and more businesses moving to subscriptions for goods and intellectual property.

I expect whoever discovers how to apply this to non-durable non-capital goods (food to rent!) will be a billionaire.

Well, clearly this model is not as popular as it seems, if older tractors are starting bidding wars. Seems like a market opportunity to me. Someone can jump into the market offering tractors that are bulletproof and easy to fix and take away John Deere's market.

They're selling for $60K, which is about the price of a new Suburban. Nobody's breaking the bank to get these things. The bidding wars are occurring because the opening bid is too low. When sellers get the idea that there is a significant demand, they'll raise the opening price and bidding will slow.

Not so easily done as Government mandate emissions that only modern technology can manage. So anyone selling a basic model tractor built like it was in the 70's won't get approval from the Government to register it for use.

Remember that everything the Government touches it screws up and if some thing is really screwed then you can be sure the Government has a finger in the pie somewhere.

Actually, refusing to allow repair is explicitly part of the business model. If the vendors were not monopolists with a huge legal stick, farmers would be happy to repair their own tractors even if they couldn't use third parties.

See, for instance,

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/kzp7ny/tractor-hacking-right-to-repair

The point is that 40 year old tractors have ALL the features you really need to farm. Everything else added on since has really been more a benefit to the company than the farmer. That Bluetooth or XM Satellite radio is just feature bloat to justify higher prices.

That turns out not necessarily to be the case. One of the big, big features you get with the modern tractors is autonomy, driven by precision differential GPS. It's no coincidence that John Deere owns one of the big commercial differential GPS suppliers.

John Deere has for years had a policy that "owners" are not permitted to repair their tractors. They use licensing agreements on the computers. It puts the farmer at extreme risk and at the mercy of corrupt dealers.

John Deere needs to be run out of business.

Time for JK Brown Tractors to take all their business.

You cannot understand this story without understanding what those computers are doing — controlling emissions. Yet more collateral damage from emission regulations. Like your dishwasher that won’t clean dishes unless run repeatedly, new tractors burn twice the fuel to cut the emissions. Yes new tractors have EGR valves too — the nonsense at the heart of the VW scandal. Old tractors don’t and that’s why they are valuable.

You didn't recognize that 'new tractors burn twice the fuel to cut the emissions' is nonsensical before posting, but maybe thinking about it for a second will be enough to realize that burning twice as much does not reduce the amount of the emissions.

Depends on what emission you are talking about. Running lean increases the temperatures of combustion which cause increases in some emissions.

And no, none of this makes any sense at all.

People who know nothing about a subject (New tractors burn twice as much fuel) should refrain from posting but it wont stop them from showing their ignorance.

I have a lot of farmers in my family. They do all the maintenance on their equipment because they have downtime in the off season and it eats up all your margin if you are paying a mechanic. The new tractors are like new cars, they are really difficult to work on. Special tools, inaccessible software, etc. Yeah it’s cool that you can press one button and it plots your field and plows it while you listen to a podcast, but that doesn’t help the bottom line. These old tractors you can work on yourself and they have cabs so you don’t get heat stroke or freeze.

Yes, contrary to stereotypes farmers are very tech-savvy and were some of the earliest adopters of the Internet. They also understand the difference between useful and irrelevant technology.

People are reenacting the scene from Footloose.

No great stagnation. More advanced technology is allowing Deere to bundle more effectively. No longer can you buy a Deere {tractor}, rather you can buy a Deere {tractor + proprietary tractor repair service}. This seems to be not an uncommon trend. Apple no longer sells {high end CPU Macbook} rather they sell {high end CPU Macbook + mandatory touch bar}, and they are doing other more blatant bundling such as soddering the keyboard to the motherboard.

Yeah, but in a competitive market, if people don't want the bundling, then why is the bundling forced on them?

Hardly anyone wants to modify their own laptop any more. They come equipped out of the box to perform well over their service life, and prices have dropped to the point where upgrading components makes less sense. All that said, there are still plenty of laptops that let you swap components, and you can even build your own laptop. So the market is still catering to those who don't want bundling.

It seems there is a significant demand for tractors without vendor lock-in for repairs...so why isn't any manufacturer responding to that?

Maybe because the idea of a competitive market is a convenient illusion used to veil the fact that many markets aren't actually competitive?

The tractor market looks pretty competitive to me. Or do you have evidence that all these companies secretly colluding?

Is there really a significant demand though for these old tractors? I would like to see some data on this. Maybe there is a small number of farmers who want this, versus the vast majority who are happy with the off the shelf modern product and don't want the hassle of self repair? It is sort of like the hobbyist computer vs the people happy to buy the latest macbook. Catering for the hobbyist makes it much more expensive than for the general consumer who in numbers vastly outweighs the hobbyist. So most manufacturers go after the hobbyist. These conspiracy stories about monopolists forcing things on people make for great copy, but should be treated with some skepticism.

*most of the manufacturers don't go after the hobbyist

I’m going to second the theory that in practice the market for tractors isn’t actually competitive. Bear in mind that brands are still clearly highly valued (they’re buying old John Deere’s, they’re not buying something else). And relative to the fixed costs of providing a new product, the payoff to a new competitor (say another car or truck manufacturer) is probably low.

And then, supposing that a new entrant did provide that product, presumably John deer would copy it and trade off their brand again anyway, and steal back a large share of that market.

Did you check the tractor market-share stats before seconding your theory? Or isn't data relevant?

I would say the data you posted was too broad too be conclusive. It includes compact tractors under 50hp, and we are interested in the greater than 100 hp market

Yeah, there are probably a number of small farmers interested in this. The big operations certainly don't care, they lease everything anyway.

In a perfectly competitive market firms are price-takers and economic profit is zero, neither is the case here. Regardless of the reason, these companies have market power and one way to exploit it is with bundling, the effect of which is to segment the market by willingness to pay.

"In a perfectly competitive market firms are price-takers and economic profit is zero" - not sure what economics course you took, but if the profit were zero, no-one would enter the field. Usually we say that the average firm in a competitive industry earns its cost of capital at least, otherwise they have to exit. John Deere's cost of capital is 5.4%, so they have to earn that at least otherwise they are destroying capital. Their actual ROIC is 6.2% which doesn't suggest a monopolistic industry to me.
https://www.gurufocus.com/term/wacc/DE/WACC/Deere%2B%2526%2BCo

It's spelled "soldering".

Moving transactions inside the firm.
The financial stress is greater on ag, so ag is contracted, moving transactions from the market into the firm. We call it a slowdown, but it is not all that, it is a rescaling. They are getting tractors that are reparable on the farm and lowering the risk of high future costs.
This also means moving inside the firm competes with the Fed, it is a loss of market share for the fed. It is one of the reasons the curve is flat, we do not have the have the manufacturing complexity of the past, so we have fewer real terms on the yield curve. We are tending toward a mining company, either mow each others lawn of dig holes. The Baumol process meets evolution.

I drive a 1998 Infiniti I30 with 265,000 miles on it. I'd like to have a new car, but I am thankful that the 22 year old car I've got came from a peak era for a near optimum of quality and straightforwardness.

Steve, I'm willing to take your Infiniti I30 off your hands for the Kelley Blue Book price + say $400 more. I live in LA county. Let me know if you're interested in selling.

The idea that this is retrogression perfectly embodies the idea that economists know the value of nothing.

Even when the economic reasons for favoring well built machinery are clearly laid out in the quoted excerpt.

Or maybe farmers just want to be free of this? 'But every three years, the US Copyright Office issues exemptions to section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and last October the new list of exemptions included – mirabile dictu – tractors! The exemption allows modification of “computer programs that are contained in and control the functioning of a motorised land vehicle such as a personal automobile, commercial motor vehicle or mechanised agricultural vehicle”, provided that “circumvention is a necessary step undertaken by the authorised owner of the vehicle to allow the diagnosis, repair or lawful modification of a vehicle function”. This means that it is lawful for Nebraskan (and other) farmers to hack the embedded software in their tractors as long as they don’t tamper with the parts of the programs that control emissions.

Faced with this exemption, what does John Deere Inc do? Why, it imposes on each proud “owner” of one of its tractors a licence agreement that says that the moment they turn the key in the ignition they have accepted its terms. These include a clause stating: “You may not reverse engineer, decompile, translate, adapt, or dissemble the licensed materials [ie embedded software], nor shall you attempt to create the source code from the object code for the software.” In other words, thou shalt not hack our software. And if you do, you may be liable for breach of contract.'

And some may wonder why farmers aren't writing love letters to a company that considers this reasonable - 'Well, it depends on what you mean by “own”. If you mean you can do what you like with your new tractor, think again. This is because your splendid machine is now controlled by software that comes embedded in the vehicle – and John Deere controls the software. “If a farmer bought the tractor,” a Nebraskan farmer told the online magazine Motherboard, “he should be able to do whatever he wants with it. You want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic – he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can’t drive out of the shop.” Instead, a Deere technician has to drive to the repair shop and plug a connector into the tractor’s USB port in order to “authorise” the new part. And the cost of this rigmarole? Why, a $230 fixed call-out charge, plus $130 an hour on top.'

(The basic article providing this information is linked above)

The $230 charge isn't the problem. It is getting someone who knows how to do it when you need them to. This equipment does tasks where time is of the essence, and waiting a day or two for a technician to show up is not workable at any price.

If this stuff is like the stuff I deal with, the problems are not easy to sort out. You end up figuring out work arounds to bugs in the software, design flaws, which take enormous amounts of time and an extraordinary level of skill.

My experience with these complex automated systems is that they work well when they work. But when they don't, they don't fail in predictable ways or are intermittent with transient failures. They swallow up the time of your most qualified and skilled technicians.

This is an interesting story, I suspect one of many where de automation is happening for economic reasons.

Another reason why productivity gains aren't happening.

Our Farmall was unstoppable until one of the hands literally drove it off a cliff. But the Kubota we bought to replace it has not given us a single problem for 15 years and I fully expect it to outlast me.

My grandpa has a smaller Kubota for smaller tasks. He’s had it my whole life and it’s still runs like a champ. You can’t kill them!

Thanks for this.

My father has a 1960's Farmall Cub that he nurses along, but at this point he spends more time maintaining it than using it. Perhaps a used Kubota would might be a decent replacement.

If the new equipment is anything like the equipment I deal with, it is fussy and unless everything is perfect it self destructs.

I tell my client that I can guarantee that the new equipment I put in will not last as long as the one it is replacing.

Remember you asking why productivity isn't seeing the increases that are expected? This is why. If the software and systems that this equipment is anything like the software and systems that I see, it barely works, is extremely expensive and requires rare and specialized knowledge to keep it running.

I'd suggest that the Boeing fiasco is likely characteristic of almost all commercial software/hardware implementations. That got attention because planes fell out of the sky. Nothing I deal with is anywhere near my Google Pixel or Apple IOS device.

This reminds me of HP printers that won't let you print in black and white just because you are running low in red ink because they stuck a chip in the ink sensor programmed to do exactly that. The software running on John Deere will not allow equipment to run if any unauthorized repair is done. Businesses want to control their customer using today's technology. It's not only despicable but economically a waste of resources.

There's no red ink in printers ;) Given that all printers these days seem to print some watermark on these page, I'd actually like to know if there is some regulation governing that; and if this behaviour isn't result of such regulation.
The other thing is that given the current consumer attitude, in terms of PR it seems that the manufacturers prefer to complain that some ink is missing rather than deal with customers yelling that it's a lousy printer on social networks.

I once had a very long conversation with EPSON customer support about this, it was the most ridiculous conversation ever.

I was just like, why can't I print in black and white because I am low on color ink, and the lady on the other end was like, because that would damage the printer.

And I responded that, A. I study engineering by trade and that makes absolutely no sense at all B. it's my fucking printer why do you care if I damage it or not C. Throwing this piece of shit out the window will also damage this printer, which I was getting close to doing.

Once you buy a product, it ought to be yours, and if I want to modify, resell, or smash it with a hammer, I ought to have the right to do that. Especially if I want to use the printer for it's one purpose, to print.

Sounds like a market opportunity for Tesla...

hahahahahahahahha........hahahahahah

You might do better with a foreign supplier of electric farm equipment that has an in country presence but wants to focus of selling units and maintaining a good reputation and does not want to sell services or up sell.

And yes, when poor understanding of English and culture becomes a plus when purchasing capital equipment it means your country has gotten itself into a bad place.

Home appliances today aren't nearly as well made as home appliances 20 years ago. They look better and have lots of bells and whistles, but they don't last nearly as long. Is it the manufacturers' fault? What people are looking for is the look. New homes are often equipped with high end appliances, including in the kitchen even though most of these people only use the microwave. Old homes are often remodeled to include the same high end appliances that are seldom used. Are these people fooling anybody but themselves?

I wonder if there isn't a market for "over engineered" very durable, very dependable items - vehicles and appliances come to mind - rather than the "just barely durable enough" + flashy features design point that seems common now. I'd pay extra for a simple washing machine that works well and would reliably last 30 years.

+1

I think one thing that's happened is that it's very easy to compare/search on price, and that drives manufacturers to really try to lower their price even at the cost of lowering quality. Maybe an informed customer would like to pay an extra $100 and have the cheap pieces of plastic in critical roles replaced with steel parts that won't fail for a couple decades, but it's hard to get to that point because the web search sorts by price and so you never even get down to the $100-more-expensive model.

Most manufacturers used to have a commercial line with less flash and more power. I think the eco regs beat those up as well though. I saw a dishwasher in a bar wash a whole, very dirty, load in 4 min. I'd love to have that at my house.

Lots to choose from ... fast (as little as 2 minutes), quiet, low water use, some even Energy Star ... but expensive.

https://www.restaurantsupply.com/under-counter-dishwashers

Mining trucks went almost all diesel electric in Australia years ago. There's been a steady electrification of mining equipment. Now we're seeing the electrification of farming equipment. It has already started and it's now possible to skip the diesel part, thanks to the rapidly falling cost of battery storage. Lithium cells used in electric cars now around $100 per kilowatt-hour. An all electric tractor requires next to no maintenance.

I've read several essays recently that blame so-called tech for the decline in the quality of machinery, and the decline of American industry. Tech can't build stuff so tech is creating and selling software that is installed on ever lower quality hardware. The American consumers go along because they have been convinced that all that software created by the boy wonders in tech makes the product (i.e., the hardware) better. Tech is slowly but surely draining America of its productive capacity. In the future people will look back on this era and ask: what were those folks thinking?

Maybe they are just preparing for the EMP crisis....

The numbers are pretty small to draw any big conclusions.

If you have a car you can take your car to an independent mechanic and said mechanic can buy parts from several sellers. Why are tractors different?

If you drive through rural areas, you'll see that many of them might not even have a visible auto repair shop with the little town's business district.

There might be a mechanic who works on cars behind his house. Those sparsely populated areas might have folks who can work on older cars and tractors, but a specialist who can work work on new ones are maybe in the next larger town. In some places, that next town could be a long drive away.

In sparsely populated areas the lack of a competent mechanic may be an economical one: not enough work for an specialized mechanic.

Albeit, what the people fighting for "right to repair" is asking is some generic tool like OBD2 scanners for cars, repair manuals and access to parts.

Compare the case for John Deere diagnostics software tool (https://blog.diesellaptops.com/2016/09/02/john-deere-diagnostic-options/) to any OBD2 scanner for cars that costs $30-40.

I don't know how things work in the US, but in Australia consumer law only covers farm equipment that costs under $28,000 US. If it costs more than that it is a much more "buyer beware" situation.

There may be also an hedonic side to this story.

There's people that buys and drives old cars even if they're dangerous (no crash protection) and have poor performance (slow acceleration and poor lap times). Some people see value in 1960s sports cars even if they're defeated with ease by modern much cheaper cars. The value is in bragging about the "best", while pretending stopwatches don't exist.

I wouldn't be surprised if farmers have a soft spot for vintage and pretend fuel cost doesn't exist.

This is an example of old capital goods competing against new capital goods when the price of new goods was set too high, or was set high and the repair of the new capital goods extracted too much consumer surplus.

Someone will find a market to introduce a new tractor that just pulls and doesn't have all the bells and whistles or require software.

Maybe it will be made in a third world country and sold in the US.

You can extract only so much consumer surplus from a farmer. When times get tough, there is no surplus, so they resort to other ways.

If their market turns around, expect them to buy the man toys they are accustomed to.

You can still buy USSR-made Belarus (Minsk Tractor Works) tractors, including the higher quality models from the 1970s.

I don’t see where you get retrogression. A new tractor with the horsepower of a Deere 4440 costs $75,000-$150,000, so the older tractor with very few hours on it selling for $43,500 hardly seems evidence of anything other than markets clearing.

With trend exhaustion, we need to find new trends, pronto.

Isn’t this a non-story? In short second-hand tractors sell for a substantially lower price than new tractors, but maybe the price differential isn’t as large as you’d expect because tractors last for a while.

It's news because our society is currently of the opinion that anything more than five years old is useless. People genuinely don't understand the mentality of these farmers.

If you don't believe me, ask anyone under 50 who has a flip phone.

Good to see those farmers spending their $28 billion bailout

https://www.freep.com/story/money/business/john-gallagher/2019/09/24/farmer-bailout-payments-china-trade-tariffs/2418676001/

The Great Stagnation is an optimistic view. I worry about regression.

Recently, I got picked up by a car service, the car was a late-1960s Lincoln Continental. The owner took car of it, repaired and maintained it. It was roomy and comfortable and rode like a dream. It had over 300,000 miles. Real American cars made with real steel, not aluminum beer cans with wheels.

Not as energy efficient? Maybe. Consider that the biggest use of energy is in building a car and delivering it, not in driving it. A car which lasts a very long time is more energy efficient than a series of cheap small cars which have to be replaced after 70,000 miles.

I am perfectly willing to believe that old tractors are better than new ones in terms of reliability and durability. And maybe they are really fuel efficient.

Same with furniture. Old dining room tables of solid mahogany beats IKEA plywood tables any day.

A lot of old houses have a solidity to them that newer houses lack.

I do worry we are going backwards in many ways.

Your general concern is probably right but the specific example you give of “the biggest use of energy is in building a car and delivering it” is not even remotely true, at least based on the data I just dug up. Manufacturing is a HUGE factor in energy intensity, but it’s not bigger than operation. And of course, the 1960s car you just mentioned has been operating a long long time.
https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2015/11/Cleaner-Cars-from-Cradle-to-Grave-full-report.pdf
https://www.matec-conferences.org/articles/matecconf/pdf/2018/93/matecconf_bultrans2018_02007.pdf
https://www.carbonbrief.org/factcheck-how-electric-vehicles-help-to-tackle-climate-change

Can you spell B52?

There's a song about this: "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" by Mr. Kenny Chesney.

This is very complicated. I think right to repair is only part of the issue. My brother and father farm, and they are gearing up to switch their operation away from the need of tractors and combines. Newer machinery is very good, but expensive since they include many features that farmers don't value equal to the cost. Many of the features are related to emissions, but not all. I'd guess that the newer stuff breaks down much less frequently, but it much more difficult to repair when a breakdown occurs.
I'd guess that many products share the same problems. Medical equipment may be like this. I needed a new cpap machine this month. It cost 800. It has many features that I'll never use. I really want a fan hooked to a tube. (I'm simplifying, I know, but I think my cpap has enough technology to sent me to the moon. I suspect I don't need that much.)
In all of these instances, I suspect government is involved somehow, at least in a small way.

As someone who has actually been shopping for used tractors for the past month, dealer after dealer that I have spoken with ties this clearly to the Obama-era changes to emissions guideline changes. It isn't so much that the new technology is bad, but it is unproven (over the long term) and if there are failures at 5 or 10 years repair and replacement will be prohibitively expensive.

All the dealers I have visited are clearing used inventory prior to 2010 very quickly while their more recent used inventory isn't moving.

Keep in mind that, for at least smaller farmers, a tractor is a 20-40 year investment. I am 41 and 40% of the equipment being used on my family farm predates me. Smaller farmers just aren't interested in a $75k used tractor that carries significant risk that it will need major technological replacements this decade.

Now, for the larger farmers in our area who farm 10,000 acres using GPS and lease their equipment on 24 month leases, the new stuff is great. For the rest of us, a reliable tractor that is 20 years old is a much safer bet than something newer, less proven, and more expensive.

Rights to repair are an important part of the production rights which need to be restored to citizens. The roles of producer and consumer are both important for product definition. Likewise for our now missing rights to heal. I suspect that libertarianism might even be a good way to emphasize such rights. Forget about state capacity libertarianism, already. Give citizens skin in the production game, not to mention concrete reasons to support libertarianism.

My grandfather has an old International H tractor that still runs. We once built a part for it that he couldn't find. A neat experience for a teenage boy!

The idea that using older technology is regression only holds true if you hold the view that newer is obviously better--called the Fallacy of Novelty. It's NOT regressive to examine one's options and determine that an older option is superior to a newer one. It's what people do when they buy a stick-shift car instead of an automatic transmission, or when they buy an older used model car. For that matter, it's what Nintendo did when they re-released several hundred NES games.

Technology isn't about the bleeding edge; it's about providing options. Sometimes the latest-and-greatest really is the best option. Sometimes, though, an older technology turns out to be the best way to handle some problem. That's not stagnation, that's consumer choice.

What I don't get is how this is just upside down from cars. I spent more money on repairs than I paid for the new cars I bought in the 70s. Since the nineties, three cars and hundreds of thousands of miles have cost me peanuts in repairs. In fact, in 30 years, the only [non wear] pieces that ever broke were a generator once and a water pump once. total cost less than 500 bucks. Something like $20/year. In the seventies I was paying hundreds each year per car for broken crap. Not to mention, they were hard to start (carburators) and they rusted out.

True enough. But the 1970s was the rock bottom for American made autos. I know, I suffered through several of them (the decline actually started in 1968 - I know, my first car was a 1968 GTO). I bought my first foreign car, a Datsun (now called Nissan), in 1970. It was more go-cart than automobile. But it was cheap (less than $2,000), dependable, and got good gas mileage. Today, they would be death traps, with all the tanks (a/k/a SUVs) on the road. As side, I still have the 1999 Toyota Avalon I purchased new. It's an amazing car. It was built on a Lexus chassis and rides like a Lexus. Today's Avalon is not the same quality car.

Not really new. Older tractors have always been in demand by small farmers. They are relatively simple vehicles. A minimal amount of regular maintenance would keep them running until they rusted out. The biggest difference is the number going to auction. This surely boosts the average resale value - many heirs of small farmers would offer to throw in the old equipment when they sold the land, unaware how much value they retained.

Isn't this story only really interesting if a modern tractor depreciates faster based on hours driven than one from the 80s? That would suggest a wider preference for old over new, that doesn't seem to be the case here, it seems to be more that a good, reliable product that hasn't been used too heavily retains value in the secondhand market. That's not really a very shocking finding.

I've heard a lot of discussion about this across the Internet, and I'm still dumbfounded by the lack of context, both in the article and in comments around it. Right-to-repair, agribusiness, and even software licensing get pulled into the discussion, but those aren't the core issues.

The missing context (as I see it) is this: Tractor manufacturers are building what the market is paying for. The market has shifted from lots of small farms (several hundred acres) to larger farms (several thousand). Some of these bigger farms are owned by big corporations, but if you take a drive through the midwest, chances are still high that the farms you see are still family businesses. It just so happens that they've expanded.

These businesses have expanded because they can, and the reason they can expand is because of the technology offered in this new equipment. In most communities, the successful farmers have grown their acreage by taking over previously failed farms.

Previous generation tractors could plow four rows at once (four furrow), and maybe plant and harvest 8. Today's planting and harvesting can support 25-50 rows per pass. Even beyond that, the tractors and harvesters automatically adjust their speed, and even drive themselves. The complexity needed to achieve this is exponentially more than a simple 3 point hitch and PTO. Newer tractors have more complex transmissions (CVTs), and more complex PTOs which allow the speed of the tractor to be independent of the PTO (the thing that drives the attached equipment), all with sensors to automatically adjust rates of different functions (some of this is simplified).

This new equipment costs millions of dollars, but it allows for huge multipliers of effort. I know several families who have grown their acreage ten-fold over the past 20 years, without significantly growing their labor (although they *have* significantly grown their capital expense, and sometimes debt). New equipment is serviced under warranty at the dealer.

Most farmers I know long for the simplicity and independence that came with simpler technology and smaller acreage, but have no desire to go back to revenues of those years.

Older tractors still are in demand, but older also means "smaller". On most farms today, these would be used for more utility work (hay) than planting and harvesting.

I think right-to-repair, big agribusiness, and software licensing should be part of the discussion, but without the context of what's happening to farms and farmers, it is all a bit ridiculous.

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