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Amuse Bouche: Did we fix something that wasn’t broken?

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Farmers are faced with the challenge of operating and maintaining more complicated farming equipment for no tangible results. PHOTO BY JOHN LAMBETH FROM PEXELS

By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

If you haven’t already, I recommend listening to Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer.”

When you finish the nearly two-and-a-half minute soliloquy on the challenges of a farmer, I guarantee you that no matter what you do, you’ll be thankful your work isn’t as challenging as a farmer’s.

There’s a line contained in Harvey’s soliloquy that refers to taming ‘cantankerous machinery’ that resonated with me as I was reading a piece documenting the ongoing battle between farmers and big agricultural equipment manufacturers.

To paraphrase the piece from Bloomberg Businessweek, one of the world’s oldest and most hands-on occupations has now become hands off.

Taking a page from the modern voting process—something simple—in this case machinery, which worked well for decades has now been “fixed.” Or to phrase it another way, it’s become more complicated with no real, tangible results.

In defense of big agriculture equipment manufacturers, their issue doesn’t lie in the farmers’ ability to repair their own farm equipment, but rather what they refer to as agitators who want the ability to modify their machines. After all they maintain and paid for them and have the right to do with them what they see fit.

Many of these pieces of farm machinery: tractors, balers, seed drills, and combines, to name a few, used to be relatively simple for farmers to replace a part, change oil or tires or generally wrench on. But those days are in the past.

To me, the question is why the push to digitalize and computerize these massive pieces of equipment? John Deere will tell you that it’s all about efficiency, making every stroke count and making each blade and drill move with optimal efficiency. Again, I understand this in theory, but now farmers are faced with dismal, unintended consequences.

Ask a vintner about the importance of harvesting grapes at optimum ripening to maximize the sugars. They’ll tell you if they believe that midnight is perfect, and 6 a.m. may be too late, so out go the teams under lights to harvest.

 It’s very similar for a farmer. If the crop is ready, it’s ready. If a harvester broke down, it may be a long, arduous night, but they could work on their machine in the middle of the night to be ready for the next day.

Today, however, they have to wait. Today, it’s not enough that most every farmer lacks the skills to diagnose the root of the problem with a circuit board on an $800,000 combine, but according to John Deere in a 2015 court filing, the farmer purchased the machine but does not own the software, making the equipment’s use what they refer to as “an implied license.”

While technology and progress are both inevitable and unstoppable, it is my belief that a farmer should possess the legal and technological right to work on their own equipment with access to the necessary resources and tools.

Luckily for farmers, it isn’t unprecedented. In 2012, a landmark court case involving auto manufacturers, required them to grant access to the technology and tools to the public.

Farmers have it hard enough. Do we really need to burden them with the one thing they know the least about?

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.

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