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Synonym – noun – syn-o-nym | \ ?si-n?-?nim
Definition of synonym

1 : One of two or more words or expressions of the same language that have the same or nearly the same meaning in some or all sense.

Merriam-Webster

Okay...got it.  Synonyms are words that essentially express the same/similar meaning. Like Amazing: astounding, surprising, stunning. Or Polite: courteous, cordial, gracious.

Or to the point of this blog:  Farmer: independent, self-reliant, self-starter. To say in a sentence that “Farmer Joe is independent” in a nutshell is to be redundant.

Farmers don't like being told what do in operation of their businesses (not surprising really because Americans generally don't like being told what to do by others.)

But over the decades farmers have become much less independent that those days when they were on the cutting edge of westward expansion of this country, establishing homesteads that eventually became part of the backbone of today's food delivery system.  For example in Iowa land was cut up into 160 acre chunks for farm production.

I personally know many many farmers who can say their ancestors have farmed the same soil going back multiple generations.  There are even townships in this country bearing the names of farmers from way back in the day.

Farmers I know value independence.  They appreciate the sense of responsibility that comes with making farm management decisions, being self-supervised and owning the food they produce.

 But farmer independence is slowly being chocked to death.  From rules and regulations on seed usage, fertilizers, herbicides, the explosion of contract farming, or the huge growth of speculators in the futures market which from time to time distorts true price discovery (to cite just three examples) the farmer is less independent today than decades past.

When I was growing up in the 1970s in northern Illinois I have fond memories of working on a dairy farm down the block from where I lived.  I did a lot of haying, plowing, rock sledding, manure spreading and the like. I did it all on an International Harvester Model H. Pop the clutch, hit the gas and away ya  went.

 First produced in 1939 it was IH's solution to help farm women whose husbands were off fighting in Europe and Okinawa.  As it turns out it was also a pretty cool ride for a teen-ager who didn't yet have a drivers license.  IH made bunches of Model H:  34,987 in 1942, 21,375 in 1943, and 37,265 in 1944.

 By the time I got my hands on the old venerable, iconic, H it was 30 years old give or take and it was a lot like the old saw about the horse who was ridden hard and put away wet.  In other words it broke down occasionally and my boss would let me tinker to see it I could get it up and running again. Lots of times it turned out to be something minor and the H was up and running in no time. 

Which actually brings me back to farmer independence and the most recent battleground over – yeah you guessed it – tractors.

You would think that farmers would have  the right to fix their own tractors and other agricultural equipment.  But on today's high tech tractors you would be mistaken. 

Big Tractor says only dealerships have the right to access the copyrighted software that controls every facet of today’s equipment.  Farmers are not allowed to see the data needed to even repair their own machines.

As it turns out anything  Farmer does on a modern tractor  – even stuff as simple as opening the cab door – is captured on the tractor's computer and then uploaded to Big Tractor via a cellular transmitter.  As such Big Tractor knows anything and everything a farmer does with their equipment.

As author George Orwell stressed in his dystopian novel 1984 “Big Brother is watching you.”

Big Tractor says modern tractors are too complicated for farmers to tinker with.

 Deere says, and it’s all too complicated for farmers to be getting involved in. The issue isn’t actually repair, says Stephanie See, director of state government relations for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers—it’s agitators who insist on the right to modify the machines.

At least since 2015 John Deere and Company has maintained that farmers who can pay upwards of 800-thousand dollars for a single tractor – don't own the machine's software and essentially have an “implied license” to operate the equipment.

 What???  Why should tractors be any different from cars and trucks when it comes to access to a vehicle's software?  In my toolbox right now I've got a code reader that I can plug into my vehicle and get diagnostic information on the health of the car.  I got it to keep from being ripped off from unscrupulous mechanics.

And it's been that way for everyone since 2013 or so when a landmark Massachusetts statute forced dealers to share data recorded by car manufacturers software:

“For model year 2002 motor vehicles and thereafter and model year 2013 heavy duty vehicles and thereafter, each manufacturer of motor vehicles sold in the commonwealth shall make available for purchase by owners and independent repair facilities all diagnostic repair tools incorporating the same diagnostic, repair and wireless capabilities that such manufacturer makes available to its dealers. Such tools shall incorporate the same functional repair capabilities that such manufacturer makes available to dealers. Each manufacturer shall offer such tools for sale to owners and to independent repair facilities upon fair and reasonable terms.”

Soon thereafter automakers made repair tools available nationwide.

The same needs to be done for modern tractors. Rapidly.

About Dave Dickey

Dave Dikcey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for the Midwest Center covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.