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It's harvest time in Iowa and my neighbors are running their combines all night long trying to bring in what looks like a record harvest. Growing conditions have been pretty ideal all Spring, Summer and Fall and it's impressive seeing all the grain being offloaded into the waiting trucks. The farmers must feel huge pride and satisfaction seeing those steady streams of corn coming out of those augers.
Then I look at those huge combines and other machines and reflect on the fact that the farmers don't really own all that grain. It's the intellectual property of Monsanto—now Bayer. If a farmer tries to save any of that grain for next year's planting—a common practice in the old days—he would be taken to court and treated like a common thief.
And now, taking a page out of Microsoft's book, John Deere is making the farmer's who buy their tractors sign agreements making it illegal for them to repair their own tractors. In effect, John Deere isn't really selling the tractors, just leasing the rights to use them and the software they contain. Half a million dollars for some of those machines and you don't even get to really own them?
It reminded me of a movie I watched a while back—Food, Inc. In it, these chicken farmers were taking out $300,000 loans to build chicken houses to win the right to make $20,000 a year raising chickens for some huge conglomerate. The chicken houses were built to the standards of the conglomerate, the chicks and all the throughputs needed to raise them were also provided by the conglomerate. And, of course, it was proprietary so the chicken farmers weren't even allowed to discuss the process.
The movie's focus was on how bad all this was for the chickens—hard to disagree—but my sympathies were also with the poor farmer. I can't imagine going into all that debt to make that little money.
Now I wonder how many farmers out there still know how to clean and save their seeds. If current trends continue, the next generation of farmers won't even think of saving their seeds. Every time someone, somewhere in the world takes a bite of a sandwich, they'll be consuming proprietary Monsanto (Bayer) wheat.
It just seems to me that the grain farmers have fallen into the same trap that those poor chicken farmers have fallen into. They take out huge loans to drive tractors they don't own, planting seeds they don't own, paying a bigger and bigger percentage to John Deere, the banks and the seed/chemical companies.
Food should be a part of our shared culture and owned by us all. It should not be the intellectual property of one or two huge corporations. If things don't change soon, there isn't going to be a next generation of farmers. It will just be corporate-owned drone tractors, running over corporate owned-land, planting corporate owned-seeds.
Fortunately, the news isn't all bad. I haven't paid Microsoft any money for their Word software in decades. This is being written on free software called LibreOffice. This is open source software that no one owns and anyone can use. There are people out there offering blueprints for Open Source tractors that farmers can build themselves at a fraction of the cost—hopefully some resourceful guy with a machine shop will start building and selling them. There are organizations out there saving seeds, so if farmers ever want to get off the Monsanto-Bayer treadmill in the future, the seeds will be waiting for them. And farmers all across America are standing up to Deere and demanding the right to fix their own tractors.
So if you are a farmer wanting to repair your own tractor, or a guy with a machine shop ready to take on John Deere with some open-Source tractors, give me a call. I work with many excellent suppliers and can get you the bearings you need.