Will Electric Tractors Farm Your Food?

There are two professions used to driving single-seaters with hundreds of horsepower, one of which is very exclusive and the other of which can be found anywhere the ground is fertile enough to support agriculture. Formula One drivers operate fragile machines pushed to the edges of their performance envelope, while the tractor at the hands of a farmer is designed to reliably perform huge tasks on dodgy ground in all weathers. Today’s tractor is invariably a large machine powered by a diesel engine, and it’s the equal of all tasks on a modern farm. Against that backdrop then it’s interesting to read the Smithsonian magazine’s look at the emerging world of electric tractors. Will they replace diesel as the source of traction in the fields?

Farm-ng’s Amiga

The two firms they focus on first are Monarch Tractor, and Solectrac. Both manufacturers offer small machines of the type we’d be inclined to describe as an orchard tractor, and Monarch are offering an autonomous option as part of their package. They also feature Farm-ng, whose machine called amusingly the Amiga, is a much smaller affair which we are guessing would be super-useful on a very intensive operation such as market gardening. We’re especially pleased to see that the emerging small electric tractor industry is embracing right to repair, something the traditional manufacturers are famous for ignoring.

It’s obvious that none of these machines are going to revolutionize the world of large high-power tractors any time soon, as they are too small for the job and can’t offer the 24/7 operation required at busy times on a farm. But it’s obvious they would be very useful on a small farm, and in particular for those tractor applications where the machine is a platform which goes from place to place to aid static work, they could be better than their diesel equivalents.

It’s odd that over the years we’ve not covered any electric tractors before. Perhaps that is, until you search instead for agricultural robots.

119 thoughts on “Will Electric Tractors Farm Your Food?

  1. Once electric tractors start using EV scale batteries, DC fast charging will allow them to come closer to the uptime diesel tractors have.

    Planting and harvest definitely need short recharge times or very long runtime, but many of the farms near me are taking advantage of the big buildings they have to install big solar systems. Some of it is for backup power, but there’s plenty to charge equipment as well.

    V2G and V2L would enhance that with portable backup power from the tractors.

    1. No, it won’t. The duty-cycle is too severe at this stage and the infrastructure and operating cost once the battery life-cycle is truly incorporated within the costs over the lifetime of the units will still make EV prohibitively expensive.

      1. Urban EV buses have really harsh duty-cycle requirements and are still taking over European cities, with 15% market share in some cities. 4152 units registered last year (EU), 45% YoY increase. No battery is “prohibitively expensive” if the TCO is lower.

        1. Urban EV buses exist among fleets of other EV buses, within close proximity of fast charging infrastructure. They are a near perfect use case of EVs.

          Tractors exist in isolation, both from other tractors and from fast charging infrastructure, and require daily 12hr+ uptime during seeding or harvest.

        2. A big farming tractor may run a full working day at 150 kW output almost continuously, which no bus will ever do.

          You’d have to stack one with 12 Tesla Model S batteries to last 8 hours, and then somehow conjure up 1-2 Megawatts of power in the middle of nowhere to recharge it in between shifts. The only way to do that would be to haul in a big truck carrying a diesel generator.

          1. ^ this

            Even the continuous sheer power of large farm tractors doesn’t compare with the large mining rigs for rare earth elements. I grew up on a small ranch with attached farmland. We had appropriately sized International Harvester and Alis-Chalmers tractors that, while large at the time, don’t compare to tractors used today on corporate farms. The inevitable engineering to convert this kind of equipment to all electric will be amazing by today’s standards.

          2. I think its fair to say that most working days are not that power hungry for a tractor no matter the scale of farm – the hard work must be when actually dragging the tools deeply through the soil, but much of the year you are not doing that. So while I agree a full EV at all times for every job in farming seems unlikely to be good for the intense periods of the year I’d not discount an EV tractor with a fairly substancial diesel generator ‘weight block’ connected to the front for those 24 hour a day multiple shifts continuous operations or extra energy intensive regular days style. (perhaps not enough to really charge or even prevent discharge of the battery entirely, but extending the intensive operations endurance enough to be a practical tractor)

            In many ways that is the best of all possible solutions for the farmer – a tractor they can largely drive very very cheaply, possibly even free for much of the year as big barns covered in solar and agrivoltaic farming are becoming common. And they shouldn’t really be losing in performance either motors of the electric style have a great deal of torque even at the lower rpm which should suit most farming jobs.

          3. @Foldi-One

            The hard work, “dragging the tools” is what the tractor is designed to do. “The rest of the year”, the tractor is rarely used at all. You use a pickup truck or loader or skid-steer.

            The exclusive application of the tractor on a modern farm is periods of extreme use alternating with periods of no use. This is the exact opposite of the application EVs accommodate best, being intervals of average use alternating with average downtime.

            There is no reason for a farmer to consider an EV tractor if it cannot at the very least do the job of their 30 year old tractor. Nor would a farmer install PV on a barn, or other farm building when they have vast amounts of non-arable land they could use for a ground PV installation.

            The idea that EV use is “the best possible solution for a farmer” is absolutely insane.

          4. >an EV tractor with a fairly substancial diesel generator ‘weight block’ connected to the front

            That’s a diesel-electric drivetrain. Doesn’t need a battery. Come to think of it, doesn’t need the electric part either as that’s just extra stuff and extra cost between the engine and the gearbox. It doesn’t actually simplify anything. If you need a weight block, concrete is cheaper.

            A field tractor isn’t similar to an electric car where you just slap in a motor to each axle or wheel and then VFD yourself around with some loss of efficiency, because the amount of continuous power and torque required are on a whole different level. The same “one reduction gear” solution that simplifies an EV car won’t work for a tractor. It’s also not the same as large earth moving machinery that are diesel-electric because they’re much bigger and a mechanical transmission would be impractical. It falls in the middle where electric drive doesn’t make sense.

          5. @Jared

            Seems to me (though I am not a farmer) that is going to depend a vast amount on the farmer and the scale of the farm – EU tractors tend to be rather smaller as the fields are smaller than the American ones, and they do seem to get used a great deal around here just moving stuff around. The sort of stuff that probably could be pulled by the giant American Pickuptrucks, but those trucks don’t really work in the EU as the roads tend to be too twisty and narrow they are just as impractical as the tractor on the roads, so they practically don’t exist. No such thing as one size fits all.


            The advantage to not having to take your generator everywhere or use it very often assuming the battery is big enough for most days is a minor complication, no different to hooking up the powered farming tools really, and one that brings a great deal of benefit all the times you don’t actually need the diesel fuel density (not to mention farmers haul generators around to power tools from time to time – so as long as it can be used stand alone too).

            And I think you would find you can get pure electric tractor just fine and get a simpler mechanical drive train still – lots of things in all sizes have done diesel electric as it works really well when the whole system is designed to meet the loads its for. Many tanks have been electric drive for instance, and many of those have much more similar scale and power requirements to a tractor than the giant earth movers. You can design the many parts of the system to match your requirements. Just need to know what they are.

        3. EV buses are forced on the people by government mandates and the costs are meaningless. I don’t see how any useful comparison can be made. In the the not so distant past as in the time of my grandfather’s youth, animals provided the power and 1/3 of farm production went to animal feed. How much of the farm land will be needed for solar and wind and electric unicorns to power farming? On a wheat or corn farm for example, combines run throttle up for 18 to 24 hours a day for a month or more. Breakdowns and scheduled lubrication and other maintenance cuts into that maybe 5%. But he combine or tractor is only one piece in the operation. There are big semi trucks hauling and tractor pulled grain bins to bring the crop to the semi’s. The crop is collected while in motion so the combines don’t stop.

          Then there are fuel trucks (Battery trucks in this future? Someday.) Tool trucks with compressors and oxy-acetalene rigs, trucks with portable grain augers. In dry country like wheat where they don’t plow much anymore (no-till farming) a big tracker and plow is kept handy to make fire rings around the field and plow “landing zones” to park vehicles with hot catalytic converters and to stop the combine if you smell smoke. Water trucks and old fire trucks and a couple quads often round out the collection. The fuel truck has to carry petrol, road diesel, and pink diesel. Almost always the equipment is left in a field far from any electricity or even a road.

          The tractors are used afterwards to chop straw or whatever else is done. For seed drills, etc. for a couple of different planting times. The rate of breakdowns is high which is an indication of the stress on the machinery. All in all this would make an incredible circus of battery swaps and charging mayhem wherever the charging has to be done.

          I’m not saying this will never happen, but it doesn’t need to. Producing the worlds supply of food is probably the last place to disrupt a working system. In fact I would insist on any new methods being better than what exists in all ways. Farming can continue using fossil fuels forever without hurting anything – if you believe that all the other mitigations will have any effect.

      2. And good luck getting that kind of electric service to a farm. Let alone convincing already strapped farmers to pay for the lines from the street to their barn. Wont happen. Diesel has too many advantages including but not limited to, service life, repairability, accessories and attachments, etc etc etc. You can simply throw a few gallons in the back if a farm truck to fire up a diesel, good luck getting a batter changed mid field. I swear that people wanting to jam electric motors in everything have never actually done an honest days work in their entire life.

      1. I agree. Farmers are very conservative about their equipment. Look up the price of a 30 year old non-DRM repair-it-yourself tractor. There are an amazing number of farms going solar so they have backup for their milk tank chillers. My neighbor for example–he’s not solar yet, but he’s considered it. He also has a John Deere ’34B that he’s rebuilt twice and uses regularly. I guarantee he’s not interested in an EV that will reduce his uptime, that he can’t repair and could lock him out if he doesn’t toe the line with the manufacturer.

        Besides, didn’t anyone see Killdozer back in the ’70’s?

        1. This Amiga sounds really appealing for that lockout reason you cite — seems like it’s a hackable platform. You can swap out the tube steel for smaller/larger lengths, weld stuff on, add arbitrary doodads to the CANBUS, even reprogram it if you’ve got Python chops (which of course a conservative farmer wouldn’t have, but on principle it’s open-source, which is kinda what old farm equipment is). Re: uptime, it appears to also have hot-swappable batteries.

    2. Last year a farmer showed me his brand new state of the art combine harvester, when I said that I thought the future would be small swarm vehicles harvesting not only wheat but veg and fruit, his jaw dropped, I thought he would reach for his shotgun.

    1. Yeah, maybe you could even use lead-acid batteries — probably improve the traction if you centred all that bulk over the rear axle! I guess charging speed ain’t great though. I do, however, wonder if swappable batteries are an option, given that farms often have equipment for lifting heavy things and moving them around.

      I wonder what sorts of crops agrivoltaics are compatible with. Ginseng, for one… maybe lettuce if you’re in a hot climate.

      1. Soil compression is a thing. The industry goes back and forth between ganged huge tires and rubber tracks to keep soils loading down. A lot of modern farming uses “no-till” and nothing touches the soil after harvest but a seed drill. They bust of the soil as rarely as possible.

      2. A field tractor sized battery would weight on the order of 4-5 metric tons. That’s almost as heavy as most tractors as it is. If you think about field-swapping one, you have to think lifting equipment that can pick up and carry a whole tractor.

      3. using lead-acid traction batteries nowadays is a dumb idea. LiFePO4 is proven to beat them even in cost (they simply last a lot longer offsetting their cost in the long run)

  2. Am I the only one who sees the absolute re-haul of the distribution system that is on the horizon because of the rise in EVs? The current distribution system in most countries can barely handle a hot summer with the added load of the air conditioners running.

    It feels dumb to ask but why is this never talked about? Any “industry insiders” with knowledge on this?

    1. It already is part of their thinking. The infrastructures are typically old and designed for a very different load profile. A big thing at the moment is looking at how to increase capacity without replacing vast swathes of assets typically by rerating the components for higher operating conditions because the older infrastructure was so over-engineered but it is not an easy balance because repairs and other more recent works may have lower engineering margin so it becomes a debottlenecking exercise.

      Also, think of it like this: HV is used to reduce the effective current whilst transferring massive power. If we can increase grid voltages then that is “free” capacity without having to put up new wires. The downside, how well the switchgear etc. can handle the higher voltages.

    2. I’ve seen it discussed a few times – always seems like a ‘problem’ that is rather overblown by those against Electric. As yes the current grid exactly as they are can’t suddenly take making everything electric and everyone living life exactly as is. But there are a few things to remember when thinking about it.

      While in many nations the grid has not been invested in well for ages it is still continually being maintained, upgraded and repaired – so as demand rises the grid will expand (even if to a bare minimum level) to cope, and it isn’t costing huge amounts extra over the maintenance cycle. It is in everyones interest for the grid to grow enough there as they can’t make money selling you power or taxing the profits if the product can’t be delivered.

      The massive increase in electric objects doesn’t actually increase the grids requirements 1:1 – just because your Electric tractor can need 15 or even 5000Kw fast charge doesn’t mean it is always drawing that. The grid doesn’t have to be able to power every possible device at once, really as long as it can at least handle the averaged load across the worst day of the year and meet whatever peak demand will hit… The actual load on the grid with so many battery operated and intermittent or variable draw consumers that are not always drawing from the grid and can shift their load to when the grid is otherwise underutilised.

      1. I heard that there could be 2 power grids;
        one conventional; one solar powered for charging evs. Perhaps only one ‘real grid’, but power companies would compensate solar contributors based on the number of evs charging.

          1. I understand that the U.S. Marines have a saying to the effect that “…there is no problem so big or so complicated that it can’t be resolved through sufficient application of high explosives.”

            The EV/green crowd thinks “…there is no problem so big or so complicated that it can’t be resolved through sufficient application of billions of taxpayer dollars.”

            The first group understands their saying is humor, and an occupational insider joke. For the second group, it’s an expression of a firm religious viewpoint.

          2. And remember … The government is you and me. We are the ones that end up ‘financially compensating’ the EV crowd. As said by Observer — “it’s an expression of a firm religious viewpoint.” and have no problem spending our money.

          3. Doesn’t need new dollars, though, it can be more of a “Howabout all those billions of taxpayer dollars pouring into fossil fuel exploitation, discovery, infrastructure, incentives, etc get swerved into renewables?”

        1. There are not enough solar panels on earth to support the EV stupidity. In the end you are still burning coal and very clean burning natural gas that the “greenies” are attacking also which makes you think either the people pushing EVs are crooks looking to cash in or people who haven’t looked in to the reality of how things actually work and instead believe a fairy tail. Neither is good but the EV crowd really doesn’t care if they destroy countries over their religion.

      2. I agree with the grid needing to be sized to handle peaks. I can’t speak for other countries but in the UK that peak is 5-7pm when everyone cooks dinner in their ovens or on their hobs. It’s a multi-gigawatt peak over daytime usage which is again multiple gigawatts higher than night time usage. The point is there’s a lot of spare capacity for most hours of the day and iirc smart EV charger legislation is designed to limit the number of people charging at peak times, though checking my charger’s app I can schedule charging for the peak without even a warning.

        1. As I understand it the ‘smart’ chargers will charge during peak times only up to the level the grid tells them is ok by default. Which may well be basically trickle charging.

      3. Right, the correct way to solve problems is do deny them and make other people sound like they are extremists opposing your idealogy. Good job. If only everyone stopped resisting, we would have unlimited amount of electricity, EVs and batteries and no problems at all! Money comes from boxes on the wall and eletricity from a socket on the wall! Huurah to walls!

        1. Well, there’s one other way to make that point: let them have at it. If you can’t reason with fools, speed up the folly to get it over with.

          Also, buy a backup generator, because it ain’t going to be pretty.

          1. except that in a worst case scenario, evs last just long enough to cause pipelines,well drilling and refining to decline.All of a sudden the folly is over and you can’t afford (get) the fuel to run the genny. Hmm, better dig out that wood gas generator I started to build 20 years ago….

          2. There’s all sorts of ersatz fuels you can use – the question is just about scaling the process small enough for a household.

            Though the point is that EVs don’t scale in the first place, so try as they might to ban gasoline and fuel refining etc. they’ll just get an angry mob with torches and pitchforks coming at the government building.

            The fools are essentially running with the idea that if you turn up the heat real slow, the proverbial frog in the pot will somehow learn to survive at 100 C. It won’t, but going at it slowly, the people will be suffering for longer until everyone realizes that it’s not working.

        2. I think I did a pretty fair job of saying the problem exists, but putting it into a context that gives some relevance to its severity.

          It is not the end of the world or some stupendously huge extra expense the way it is often reported by the V8 petrochemical loving lobbies – as the grid is not some static bit of engineering that hasn’t changed since AC won out over DC. The constant need to maintain and upgrade anyway largely makes that a problem of pretty minor degree – you already had to replace those parts in the next 10 years, now you are replacing them, probably with some extra headroom compared to to the existing version at not much more expense.

          Nor is the extra load a major problem as the peak draw created by human life cycles means there are huge huge dips where the existing infrastructure COULD be working much much harder, but there currently isn’t a demand – and with EV car charging and other throttle able and offset able loads you just end up smoothing out that peak and trough for the most part. The power shippped through a day will increase hugely but you are likely still not even close to the actual peak the grid could ship if demand for it was high enough to keep the grid near 100% utilisation though a day.

          1. Using quotes on “problem”, callling it “rather overblown” and using “by those against Electric”. Seems like “us vs. the enemy” to me, i don’t know the english word for it.

            And frankly i disagree with you on the scale of the issue. They don’t replace all the network every 10, 20 or 50 years for damn sure. The cabling, the only time i’ve seen it replaced was when a tree fell on it or they dug it underground here.

            And when most people drive to work and home about the same time and start charging, even if it’s not fast charging that is a load and a half even if some of it can be smoothed out by other EVs.

            I don’t see any advantage in belitteling the issue. To me everyone can drive whatever they want, be it electric or not. There are benefits to EVs sure. I don’t shut my eyes of the problems of EVs and call it a day though. I think there can me multiple solutions and thinking one dimentionally is bad no matter what.

          2. >the existing infrastructure COULD be working much much harder, but there currently isn’t a demand

            Right now the problem is that we have little control anymore what happens on the grid. Six months ago we were paying 50 cents a kWh, now the price is -7 cents, because renewable and other non-dispatchable power flows across countries are completely overwhelming grid transmission capacity and creating bottlenecks.

          3. Basically, we’re at a breaking point. The grid can’t take yet another variable and volatile load or source of power, or else things will start crashing and blacking out. Talking that the “grid could work harder” is basically cloud cuckoo land speaking.

          4. Dude most of the existing infrastructure spends the vast majority of its time massively underutilised through a day, that you can find some bottle necks in places doesn’t negate that. And as everyone with their all electric future will be spread out everywhere they are mostly nothing to do with the bottle necks, and infact with things like V2G and house battery electric trading the all electric future household actually reduces the bottle neck on those longer distance transfers by being able to keep the power more locally sourced so negating the need to send power past that bottleneck…

            A dynamic spot price of electricity (assuming you actually get to benifit from it) is a good thing really – if you can get free or very cheap electric most of your intermittent loads like laundry and the dishwasher can be triggered to run on that etc – everyone can benifit, and in the process by being an active part of the supply-demand equation you end up pushing the price towards more stability.

      4. No,

        The thing to consider is that if only EV’s were allowed to operate by 204x or whatever arbitrary but soon off date, most people would suddenly not be able to afford a car due to limited supply and infrastructure.

        That is why no major nuclear roll-out is happening, yet the mandates are there.

        The grid can handle a number of allowed EVs unless it is expanded. It’s not being expanded. That should answer the question.

        I think, the plan is to have no layperson own a car due to cost. Rather, you uber your way wherever you go by a phone app car service. Golly, hope that social credit score remains high enough for the app to keep working.

        We (laypersons) will be going right back to 1910.

    3. Distributed solar, roof-top, greatly reduces the load on the “distribution system” and coupled with even distributed sub 50KWh storage the only changes to the grid is that the grid operators don’t keep collecting more and more of the public moneys.

      1. I agree however this type of solution requires functional (and sane) local import/export systems working well enough for micro/mini/macro grid scale integrations. If you are a farmer with acres of farmland and a few outbuildings and way out of town then the grid supply issue becomes slightly more difficult and more so if the local NIMBY association does not want a new HV overheard line installing.

        1. A local ‘train stop’ installed ‘parking shade’ with solar panels. Both commuters and town benefits. Commuters don’t have to operate their gasoline powered AC units
          as much.

      2. I think you are not seeing the big picture. Where do you put the new substations in New York City when every apartment building and business location and the airports have parking garages full of chargers? When all the taxis and garbage trucks are electric? And delivery vans and all the rest? The room under the streets is already full of utility tunnels and pipes and street level service elevators.

        Maybe substations could be built on the tops of buildings. The skyline will look like Tesla planned the city. Maybe the alternative needs to an indirect use of electricity to make a fuel that is “green” and can use the existing distribution and prime movers.

    4. One not the look any further than the state of California and their effort to transition to total electric everything. In one month Governor Newsom declared his plan for all electric vehicles followed the next month by limitations on recharging personal electric vehicles because of the lack of electric charging resources.

      1. A modest proposal.

        Someone finally gets it.

        The problem is not to bring everyone along to the same lifestyle and level of convenience currently available / that they are accustomed to.

    1. There were glow plug RC helicopters yonks ago.

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think what LIPOs and brushless DC motors (plus the onward march of microcontrollers) have enabled is the vastly simpler quad design, which relies on fast and accurate speed changes on the motors, which electric excels at, instead of complex mechanical linkages. This in turn allows vastly simpler mechanical design (= cheaper) and simpler flight controls (= wider audience).

    2. Umm…
      We still fly fuel powered planes, helicopters, and yes even quads. Not sure where you got the idea that model aviation had abandoned liquid power.

      Hell Neither Gravity, nor Zapata would be getting high if they werent huffing JETCATs supply of hobby turbines originally intended for YOU GUESSED IT….RC AVIATION….which is old speak for hobbyist drones.

      1. if a power plant can make a kilowatt with less pollution than a small gasoline gasoline generator…that’s the way to go.
        unfortunately, that brings back ‘the nukes’.

        1. Gen IV nukes are what we need if we’re serious about adopting a full electric energy distribution method. In addition to using them for just power, imagine what that power can do. Desalinate water. Pump water. Be used to create synthetic fuels using CO2 from the air and water.

          Don’t cast all nukes into the same cooling pond. We can build now what we couldn’t before and be all the better for it. The ability to breed new fuel and use what used to be considered low grade fuels for reactors holds much promise for the future. Certainly more than poisoning the landscape while we mine for the materials needed to support the new green methods of transportation and energy generation.

          Radioactive elements will decay no matter what we do, why not use them for energy instead of letting it go to waste??

  3. Short answer: No. Longer answer: reintroduction of slavery in agriculture should be avoided. Children as young as 10 years old are forced to mine the materials needed for these electric vehicles. It’s a sign of the grand moral decay that Americans are quiet about this massive slavery problem.
    If you support electric farming equipment, you are not worthy to reap the benefits from it.

      1. its not technology marching it along its the scare tactics of climate change. gas powered vehicles take decades to emit what an ev battery already has when it comes off the line. but some people really think theyre noble by trying to force the rest of the world along with their fantasies

    1. Unless you want to invade everywhere so you can force reformed labour laws on the entire rest of the world, as almost all of it doesn’t see things exactly as you do…

      Well you had better not be consuming any product you didn’t make by hand yourself from resources in your back garden, as anything you buy that sourced any parts from the open global markets picked the cheapest places… Which would then mean whatever personal electronic device you posted that from proves you are massively hypocritical… So bring on the war machine?!?

        1. Are you willing to pay heaps and heaps more for everything?

          At some point you have to deal with reality, you want to keep the skills and build stuff locally but you still have to find ways to make that competitive enough – so either make genuinely high quality products, which practically nobody much wants to buy as they cost too much compared to the throwaway sweatshop ones – would need a major culture change in the developed world for those products to actually sell enough to support a business.

          Or find some way to automate the process cheaply enough to not cost more than paying a heap of staff but sufficiently you can actually cut it down to only having to pay one wage – which with the fast and throwaway culture can’t be done for most things – the tooling up costs are far far to high to only make a product for 6 months – so again a culture change in the buyers required…

          Or I guess figure out how to get your local worker accepting a massive pay cut and effectively on-shore the slavery…

          All which being practically impossible you have to hope that increasing wealth flowing into these countries leads to them developing better practices.

  4. In France, we had experiments of electric tractors about one century ago. The tractors were quite big and were powered by the grid via a long cable. The experiments were not very succesful and ended as Diesel engine and diesel oil were less expensive.

    1. And we all know technology has not changed for over a hundred years… no better magnets, no better conductors, no better control systems, nothing… sad isn’t it.

      1. Electric drives were fairly good even back then, if primitive and big. We’re not actually talking about huge improvements in efficiency, especially when it comes to larger machinery. What they didn’t have a hundred years ago is the ability to miniaturize the stuff, but that doesn’t matter in a tractor.

        The main problem is still the same: adequate power delivery.

  5. Solar pv has already changed the economics of agriculture,
    where very large roofed buildings are the norm,so the incentive to add motive power to the mix is strong
    add to this that most large agribusiness is vulnerable to
    large losses if the grid goes down and require expensive
    back up generators to be functional at all times
    examples are,dairy farms that require tens of thousands
    of liters of water per day,and that the cows MUST be milked
    hundred of them
    grain that has to be dried before storage,and can not sit
    even for a few hours
    any fruit and vegitable storage that needs cooling
    so the motive power for tractors is just another energy
    demand,and not the largest one

    1. farm buildings in themselves are not an incentive to install PVs at all.

      “large roof buildings” are irrelevant in an agricultural setting. these buildings are in the middle of nowhere and it’s often much cheaper and more effective to install a PV ground array.

      1. pv has already made agriculture profitable in Germany
        large existing roofs and modest sudsidies,vs the high
        on farm demand for electricity has stopped the sale of farms for other development
        money and time are always tight on a farm
        and solar just works
        in Canada we now have incentives.that allow us
        to roll RRSP’s and GIC’s into an on property Photo Voltaic investment with no fees or early withdrawl penalty
        fueling a tractor from the roof is going to be a popular

        1. Canadian farms are orders of magnitude larger than German farms. the entire industry is different.

          Again, the large existing buildings means nothing in Canada because these buildings are generally in open farm yards larger than the average German farm on their own.

          1. You are talking like the copper to hook it all up is free… concentrating it where you want it makes more sense than spreading it out over 50,000 acres.

  6. Current state of tech, I could see a solution where ~200hp equivalent powertrains are used on smaller tractor type vehicles, where the human is in the controller unit and there are two “drone” units keeping station on it. Thus the width plowed, seeded, sprayed etc would be equivalent to the largest diesel machines for the same amount of human labor. Then it could be arranged that the units peel off and self-home for recharge, with another one freshly charged arriving to replace it. Self driving tech seems like it would be capable of that, even if you had to limit it to 10mph and put down some markers. If the units were identical each capable of being controller/driven and drone, then you could swap driver over to fresh units too and not have one needing all the battery…. or arrange “in flight refuelling” from the drone units.

    I think systems like this already exist for taking harvested crop from combines.

  7. Everybody hates on the “It’s burning stuff, noooooooo!!!!” types of solutions, even if they are carbon neutral. But solutions for farm generation could include those massive diesels that can burn particulate fuel. Like husks, or spoiled but dried out grain. Then there’s a company with ready to go converter gas units that can also make biochar, with output in the kilowatts for gas powered generators.

  8. My uninformed guesses:

    I think typically the big tractors end up being wastes of fuel when they’re *not* doing the most power intensive parts of their jobs. They might have to go out several times with different attachments, many of which don’t consume much at all, but they still have to use that big engine to move the giant tractor around at a limited speed. So a hybrid might make more sense in the larger sizes, rather than trying to make the batteries keep up with everything.

    For small tractors, I suspect either the usage and the budget isn’t like the big industrial farms, or maybe it’s a bit more specialized. A nice basic small tractor might have up to 50hp from a 3cyl diesel and a hydrostatic (hydraulic continuously variable) transmission. It will be able to drive various hydraulic things as well as provide shaft power, but the shaft power will be directly driven from the engine and therefore the engine speed will be fixed when in operation. If things could be done electrically for a reasonable price, the engine could be decoupled from the output in terms of speed to save fuel. With a battery, it could run intermittently at low loads in order to save fuel without coking. An electric drive may also be more efficient than hydraulic, I imagine.

  9. The answer is… it depends. For light duty work like done with a compact tractor an electric powertrain can and does work. Orchard use, milk barns, yard work, etc. They can serve the need. Honestly where they could really shine is in cold climates where modern diesels with SCR emissions systems really falter. Unfortunately batteries don’t work great in the cold either.

    Where it falls apart is when you start considering field work. Ground work, seeding, harvesting, mowing, baling… these are all chores that keep the tractor at high load all day long and are often very far from the farmstead. A large tractor or combine can burn anywhere from 8 to 20 gallons of fuel per hour for 6 to 12 hours per day. That’s a lot of energy even once you consider the losses of an internal combustion engine.

    You’ll have a hard time convincing anyway to fold everything up and road for anywhere form 30 minutes to 4 hours to the nearest farmstead to go charge a battery for at least an hour. That’s downtime that just can’t be afforded. Even once a battery is large enough to work for that long at those loads, it’s not common to drive your equipment back to the barn every night. They’re often left out in the field to be run somewhere else nearby the next day. It’s relatively easy to set up a fuel truck or trailer to handle the equipment… but how much would a mobile charger cost?

    1. If your tractor has the hotswappable battery concepts built in it just becomes like a power tool – go to the charger and pick up the fresh battery. And as most tractors end up running with weight blocks anyway it seems to me you can almost certainly make the case for an EV tractor where the battery is the swappable weight block.

      As I’d expect there are many farmers that will be driving back past the yard between fields, if not actively stopping for 30 mins to do the essential paperwork or grab a cuppa I don’t think that will be a major problem for many. And even if you did leave it out in the field if that field is remote enough to warrant that you probably drove to meet it – so you could bring the spare battery with you.

      Like all things battery EV they are not a perfect like for like drop in replacement for every current usecase, if your needs are well met or you can adapt your practices a bit they might be by far the best option being practical and cheap to run. But if not perhaps you will have to deal with more inconvenience or choose another technology – in the same way the giant open pit bucket miner is a good tool for German coal its a lousy choice for getting at almost any other resource including other coal sources!

        1. The battery swap could easily be half that, or even less – if that is part of the core design you have 3 easy swap battery packs rather than a giant single pack if that is what is practically most useful – but as the machine itself can be used to lift its own battery in similar style to the self unloading cargo container trailers for HGV, the weight really doesn’t matter at all. As you are designing a new system, and the system to be functionally complete, so it will be.

          Or even use flow battery and you are not swapping most of the battery at all, just changing fluid, making it rather more analogous to current refuelling processes.

          1. So you want the driver to stop 2-3 times a shift, drive out of the field, swap a battery and then drive back into the field where they left off? And what do you have out there to charge those batteries? A diesel generator?

            Flow batteries have lower energy density, so even more mass to haul around, or more frequent swapping.

          2. Here again, a pickup truck can haul a thousand liters of diesel up to a field tractor, and that’s enough for the whole day, round the clock operation.

            Assuming the same pickup truck would carry an equivalent weight of about 800 kg of batteries up to the tractor, it would have to make the trip 18 times a day for the same effect.

          3. If your battery happens to be in multiple parts you don’t HAVE to stop any more times, its just multipart to make it easier to change as each lump got smaller. You might choose to stop and exchange parts early if its convient, but you don’t have to stop any more than the giant single battery (well a marginal amount of loss for the extra casing mass and volume compared to a single giant battery, but that is marginal).

            There is no denying the energy density of diesel is hard to directly compete with, but what folks actually need isn’t necessarily an exact replacement in use – if you have shifted to some agrivoltatic and covered your barns in solar for instance a bit of added inconvenience might well be massively worth it as your tractor is doing all that work for almost no cost, fuel is expensive. That is a massive game changer, and if you really must have almost exactly diesel like performance in use sometimes there are many options like having a diesel generator you can carry at need, or the flow battery that has really rapid ‘recharge’, or you could end up sticking with diesel – but just because that one user needs exactly what they already have doesn’t mean everyone else does…

  10. Just thinking, wow, is this an actual use case for hydrogen… where there is an abundance of energy over a period of time, the whole year, but it needs to be used in intensive bursts as the cultivating, planting and harvesting demands. Are massive hydrogen tanks the answer, make it continuously, use it in bursts. Certainly seems to me the kind of scale where hydrogen tank vs huge battery would pay off quick.

    1. Indeed, and there are more than a few use cases out there where an electric motors performance is ideal so the drive train is already electric anyway – so going to fuel cell hydrogen-electric would be a pretty seamless replacement for diesel.

    2. Only problem is the energy density. Even liquid hydrogen takes up four times the volume of diesel fuel.

      Fortunately, when you have hydrogen and a source of carbon – say straw and other agricultural waste – you can fischer-tropps it into diesel in a local fuel factory.

      1. Coincidentally, since the FT-process makes a bunch of different hydrocarbons at the same time, it’s possible to get everything from candle wax to gasoline out of the same process by fractional distillation. It was once even used for producing edible margarine out of coal.

  11. If you look at the duty cycle of any farm use tractor it will probably be in the 15-20% neighborhood. Basically there are two or three times per year that a tractor gets used. Spring planting and fall harvesting. With some spraying maybe in the middle. This seems to me to be really high hanging fruit (pun intended) to go after. Why not go for things that have higher duty cycles like the irrigation system. There are a lot of diesel powered irrrigation systems in use in Murica.

  12. I’m probs one of the few people here who own both an electric and a diesel tractor. I largely agree with what maxzillian said above. Most of the time my diesel tractor is sat doing nothing, but becomes incredibly busy at certain times of the year where it’s under very severe load for many hours on end. The electric tractor simply cant handle this level of abuse.

    My next autonomous tractor project will use a diesel engine with a hydrostatic system for the drive and steering. Electrons will be used to activate hydraulic valves and the onboard sound system, but nothing else. Furthermore, battery future prices are a big unknown and it’s very possibly better to bet on hydro carbons as everybody else goes for electric and creates a run on lithium and a problem for the grid. BTW, farmers I’ve met are not necessarily conservative by nature and often take out huge loans to buy the most up to date kit. Those that stay with the old tech and dont take risks or invest go bust.

    1. What made you rule out using any more electrical parts even if it’s diesel powered? Hydraulic and hydrostatics are very nice, but I am under the impression you can get a good jump in efficiency from electrics generally. Though the bigger difference in consumption might be in whether you have to rev up to make the pump or pto implement happy, even though you don’t need that much power all the time. I know I do on my small one, because the hydrostatic speed and the force of the hydraulics are both limited if the pump isn’t turning fast enough, even if the engine isn’t bogging.

      Admittedly, since small stuff like hydraulic steering takes so much less flow than everything else, I can’t say the little things need to be electric instead. And it’s hard to argue with mechanical couplings for efficiently turning an implement that needs to turn, even though if the engine rpm often isn’t ideal.

      Still, I like diesel-electric for things where eventually the “diesel-” might be replaced with some other primary source without having to change the rest around. Like trains.

      1. Electrics are more efficient, but the power density isn’t quite there yet. There’s some fancy actuators that cost a house that can produce similar forces and speeds, but those are still rare.

          1. “…some of the things you can do with a self propelled source of electricity might be impressive.”

            Hmmmm…extremely interesting.
            Would you mean, just as by way of example, something like a railroad locomotive whose power source was a diesel engine driving a generator, which in turn powered electric traction motors on the locomotive’s wheels?
            You are right; now that would be a truly impressive feat!

          2. Like I said originally, “like trains”. Only smaller scale and usable in the middle of nowhere where even a automobile with vehicle-to-load might not go. Not only might there conceivably be some kind of advantage to electrifying certain implements for tractors, but I could see using a light tractor or a mulcher as a self propelled generator so that whatever you’re doing in the middle of nowhere, you can do it with a diesel generator once you get there. You can get PTO attachments already, and for some cases it might be fine to just carry a generator on the back of whatever vehicle you’ve got, but I think that leaves a niche.

  13. “Will Electric Tractors Farm Your Food?”

    No. Absolutely not.
    Talk about the world’s most torque-intensive, most abusive, demanding of any load-hauling application…absolutely NOTHING holds a candle to a farm tractor on a working, income-producing farm.

    There was a very good reason why Elon Musk demo’d the prototype of his ridiculous attempt to build a Class-8 electric tractor-trailer carrying a “load” of potato chips: an 82 000-lb Class 8 tractor-trailer requires so much battery that there’s no room left for the revenue load allowed for and provided by a conventional diesel engine…and REVENUE LOAD is the only thing which people who drive trucks for a living care about..and its equivalent is the only thing working farmers, whose livelihood depends on their equipment, care about.

    All you bleeding-heart social justice warriors grow up. Just, simply, grow up.

    As a part of that “growing up” process, ask someone who REALLY understands the problems associated with electric vehicles (you don’t; don’t even consider asking yourself): “Where does all that electricity required to charge EV batteries ultimately come from?” [Spoiler alert: you won’t like the answer. It comes–mostly (very mostly)–from burning coal and oil]
    Oh, and learn (a) some science, and (b) some very serious critical-thinking skills, as major parts of that growing-up process.
    Electric “lawn tractors”–what used to be known as ‘riding lawnmowers’, before the marketeers decided they could charge more by calling them “tractors”–can’t even mow my lawn.

    1. You seem to have read an obvious PR blurb that the Smithsonian somehow published, and taken it at face value so you could angrily rant at some “green tech” people. Good job?

      I think electric tractors are stupid. But I can also see an electric light duty tractor being useful.

      Weight? Yeah. How many tractors carry several tons of ballast? Most of the ones I see.

      Electric drivetrains are also FAR simpler, and can therefore be built more robustly. But you obviously know that since you seem to be talking down to everyone who doesn’t “understand” electric vehicles.

      Electrical sourcing? Mine is 55% wind/solar. And I’m in the US. Not ideal, but switching is happening everywhere.

      And your comment about hauling potato chips?
      You don’t seem to see the irony in your argument.
      How many trucks on the road right now are hauling light-weight finished goods? How many do that same thing everyday?
      Is that enough to support building the required infrastructure for them TODAY?
      We don’t need to convert every truck on the road TOMORROW. Who CARES if we can’t haul steel plate or prefab bridge pieces efficiently right now?

      But I’ll pass on the “growing up” part.
      Ignore my multiple graduate degrees and work experience.
      Grownups are icky and boring.

  14. Most farms have an excess of biomass so why not use it for fueling tractors? There are tractors already using methane from biomass and also burning solid biomass. The first tractors were steam powered generated by burning wood.

    1. in truth that excess or “waste” biomass is what farmers incorporate into the soil to increase the quality of the topsoil, increase the quantity of good microbes, recycle some of the nutrients of the previous crops, and hold and act as a delayed release for the fertilizers applied to the next crop so it all doesn’t wash in to the nearest stream. Building the soil as opposed to “minimg” it till it’s dead…see”dust bowl”

  15. In Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky, set on Ganymede, the tractors and other machinery are electric. They needed nuclear power to keep the man made atmosphere in place. So they run other things off it.

  16. For slow and heavy work like a tractor does its possibly a good candidate for redox flow batteries. Let the solar panels on the barn make it and the tractor uses it to run. quick refill too.

  17. There is a sector where small electric tractors make perfect sense. The issue with electric vehicles use to be where to charge them? Well a tractor sleeps in the same shed each night. Next, what about charge speed? You could swap batteries comfortably, because unlike with motorcars, you’re swapping it at your shed. It’s your other battery. What about weight? Ever seen those weights loaded onto the nose of a tractor. That where you put your battery. And what of low speed torque and clutch wear. No clutch to wear and 100% torque availability at low speed.

  18. Wow…that article is so tone deaf it’s likely to shatter all these California Vineyard owners overpriced wine glasses…

    “People don’t build that much in factories anymore. Machines do, and people are there to supervise them,” says Mark Schwager
    Muh to the dismay of factory workers. *AHEM* I mean FORMER factory workers.

    “…it’s going to fill jobs that can’t be filled,” says Schwager
    Is he referring to the jobs he can’t fill because he doesn’t pay people enough?
    Or is it the ones that can’t be filled due to the racist legislation stopping people from getting work papers?

    “…helping to ease anxiety over the scarcity and rising cost of labor.”
    Uh huh…

    “Automation could also help relieve workers from laboring in inclement conditions”
    What? How?
    How is an autonomous electric tractor going to help a laborer?
    It certainly doesn’t help the person who could already drive along in an air conditioned cab.
    Most laborers jobs are done by people because there isn’t equipment that can do it well. How does an autonomous tractor help them?
    Does it blow cold air on them in the field so they don’t have to rely on the “refreshing” insecticide spray from the next field over?
    Does it teach the child laborers lessons so they can join school if they somehow escape their 14 hour jobs?
    (I bet most people have no idea there are carve-outs in US child-labor laws that exclude ‘agriculture’ from hiring kids as young as 12, or having to limit work hours. A 12 year old should not be working 14 hour shifts in a field picking tobacco. They should be in school…)

    For someone selling farm equipment, these people sure don’t seem to understand anything about farming.

  19. Any new farming equipment (and probably most heavy industrial equipment for that matter) would have to be made such that it could be repaired, upgraded, and modified by the owner with minimal difficulty in order to gain wide market acceptance. A tractor, for example, would probably need to rely on some design standards (https://xkcd.com/927/) and be able to accept a mix of generic, aftermarket, 3rd-party, and even DIY components without needing any involvement (or permission) from the original manufacturer.

    I don’t think any planting or harvesting equipment would be fully electric due to the total distance traveled (remember that even though a tractor or combine probably won’t travel far from a garage, it still has to travel back and forth dozens of times). An electric drive is great for inconsistent power needs (i.e. urban driving), but batteries still have a lower power density than gas or diesel and both the sowing and reaping process would probably have fairly consistent power needs during operation. A spayer or self-propelled grain cart might benefit from an electric drive train due to having to drive slowly in the field and making quick trips to and from where they’re emptied or refilled.

  20. Once upon a time “tractors” were used as a universal source of mechanical power via PTO/Drive belt arrangements. You could power your corn drill, thresh grain, run a small harvester, bucket loader add-on etc. All of this spread the investment in the machine into considerable utility year-round. The Ford 8n model and its successors come most quickly to mind. This would be the key to creating enough of a market for production of numbers of electric “tractors” as they already get used for everything from snow removal to construction-site use quite apart from traditional “agriculture”. Find a situation where motor maintenance is a headache and you’ve found the market for electric.

    Current tax policies encourage huge rates of investment in very large bits of agricultural machinery (wonder how that happened??), but finding a market in the smaller end of things will happen just as two-wheeled diesel “Iron Buffalo” is slowly taking over much of the Asian market. In fact this might be a good place to look into a market niche, aside from “Electric Buffalo” sounding like a late 60’s band name.

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