… and “right to repair” legislation will make it even easier
OTTAWA — For more than a decade, diesel-powered tractors and combines have arrived from the factory encumbered by government-imposed ‘DEF’ emissions equipment. And for just as long, many farmers have been disabling the controversial systems, to save both fuel and maintenance costs.
Though illegal, an underground industry has grown up to ensure the diesel engines that power agriculture — and transport — run as well and as economically as they did not so long ago — before Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) was mandated. DEF is urea, and modern machines have systems that inject the substance into the engine’s exhaust stream.
Members of the North American Equipment Dealers Association report that 50 % of newer farm machines in their area have been illegally modified with a DEF “delete kit,” John Schmeiser, president of the organization’s Canadian arm, told the federal Industry and Technology committee last November. Schmeiser raised the emissions issue to highlight one impact of proposed “right to repair” legislation: The bill would make such modification even easier to accomplish.
He also pointed out that there’s no enforcement of the federal law against tampering with emissions systems on farm equipment.
While transport trucks are subject to provincial road inspections and must undergo regular safety checks that include verifying that emissions equipment is operational, there is no policing of the exhausts of off-road vehicles like tractors and combines..
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Ontario diesel mechanic with knowledge of the subject expressed surprise that only 50 % of new tractors and combines might be undergoing a DEF-deletion after purchase. “Every single one is being modified,” he estimated.
The mechanic couldn’t blame farmers for doing it. Current DEF systems are extremely expensive to repair and maintain, he said, describing the cost of replacement parts and filters as “atrocious.”
He also explained that DEF systems just don’t work very well and cause a tractor to “burn a lot more diesel fuel” than it otherwise would. The technology requires a “self-cleaning” process from time to time, which might see the machine sit for as long as two hours at full throttle, he said, noting the irony of that process.
Then there’s the DEF itself, which is consumed at a rate of between 2 and 12 % of diesel usage. DEF is worth nearly $3 per litre and is held in a separate, small tank on the tractor.
Liberating a tractor of its DEF system voids the manufacturer’s warranty and costs thousands of dollars. However, that upfront expense pays for itself in fuel savings and reduced maintenance costs in about two years, according to an Ontario farmer familiar with the topic. It also pays off in the form of “peace of mind,” the farmer said.