A 1978 John Deere 4440, one of the most popular models on
the market. (Photo from Mecum Auctions)
New tractors come with a lot of bells and whistles, but many farmers are rejecting them in favor of 40-year-old models.

"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," Adam Belz reports for the StarTribune in Minneapolis. "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."

Farmers can't easily fix even simple problems with new tractors because the tractors come with proprietary software that requires a dealership to access it. For the past several years, many farmers have been hacking their newer tractors with black-market software so they can make their own repairs. "Tractor hacking is growing increasingly popular because John Deere and other manufacturers have made it impossible to perform 'unauthorized' repair on farm equipment, which farmers see as an attack on their sovereignty and quite possibly an existential threat to their livelihood if their tractor breaks at an inopportune time," Jason Koebler reports for Vice.

The older models can be easily fixed or retrofitted with modern features by a farmer or a local mechanic and can last decades, with proper maintenance. "These things, they’re basically bulletproof. You can put 15,000 hours on it and if something breaks you can just replace it," Greg Peterson told Belz. Peterson is the founder of Machinery Pete, a farm equipment data company with a used farming equipment sales website and TV show.

In the meantime, farmers are pushing for "right-to-repair" laws that would invalidate the licensing agreements Deere and other manufacturers force buyers to sign, Koebler reports. As of March 2019, about 20 states have considered right-to-repair bills.