Images courtesy of Liebherr, PistenBully, SafeConnect Systems and Lion Electric.
All-electric farm tractors are only just coming onto the market, but they are clearly the future of farming. The early models, which are in the 40-70 HP range, will be of particular interest to vineyards and small farming, livestock, equestrian and groundskeeping operations.
Electric tractors are superior to diesel ones in a number of ways. They cost much less to operate (we’ll come to initial cost later), don’t idle, produce no exhaust and much less noise and vibration (hence greater operator comfort, health and safety), generate phenomenal torque, and come with all kinds of new electronic features. And the fact that they’re better for the environment will likely be a plus for farmers, who live close to the land and are highly impacted by climate change.
Like other electric vehicles, these tractors carry onboard lithium battery packs that have to be recharged. Depending on the nature of operations, they’ll run 5-10 hours between charges – if you need longer run time than that, you’ll need to invest in an extra swappable battery. The battery will fully recharge overnight with a 220-240 volt charging unit (a separate expense which will require a panel with 40-80 amps). By the way, the extra weight of the battery is actually a plus since it improves traction.
Even more so than with passenger vehicles, electrification of farm equipment opens the door to previously unavailable capabilities. Equipped with sensors, cameras and onboard computers, electric tractors can monitor crop health, respond to varying soil and atmospheric conditions, run remote diagnostics and record operations for later analysis. With their onboard battery, they can double as a mobile power supply. Finally, they can enable autonomous operations, which for better or worse is probably the way farming is headed.
Even at this early stage, the economics of going electric are favorable for those who can stare down the initial cost. One of the bigger machines will run $45,000-75,000, but it will save about $4,000-5,000 a year in fuel costs (maybe more, considering the cost of diesel these days). With fewer moving parts, there’s less to break down, which means lower repair and maintenance costs and less downtime. And autonomous operation can potentially mean big savings on labor costs.
So far, two specialty manufacturers have entered the fray, hoping to be the Tesla of a potentially huge global market for compact electric tractors. Monarch’s MK-V is a compact tractor that puts out 40 HP continuous (70 HP peak) and runs for 5-10 hours on a charge depending on duty. The 2WD version costs $58,000 and the 4WD $68,000. Solectrac has three models on the market: the $28,000 e25, the $45,000 eUtility and the $75,000 e70N (which offer 25 HP, 40 HP and 70 HP respectively). An extra battery pack for any of these machines will run $10,000-15,000.