In an era where bankruptcy is a serious threat for many of America’s fruit and vegetable farms, farmers need innovative tools to boost their efficiency and long-term viability. Electric vehicle (EV) tractors are one type of solution and as such, are shaping the future of agriculture. These tractors represent an ideal fusion of old-world farming wisdom with the power of modern technology.
For many farm decision-makers, questions about battery longevity, charging times, and overall tractor performance prevail. Addressing these concerns is crucial for understanding the real value EV tractors bring to the farm, ensuring farmers can make informed decisions tailored to their unique needs.
What Is an EV Tractor?
An electric vehicle (EV) tractor is essentially a farming machine powered by electric batteries rather than traditional diesel. Unlike their conventional diesel counterparts, EV tractors don’t emit harmful pollutants. They present a long-term, cost-effective option when rising fuel prices and maintenance savings are considered.
One advantage is the quieter operation of EV tractors. This might seem trivial, but it's a substantial benefit for farms close to residential areas or for farm workers and farm managers who value a healthier work environment. Research by Texas A&M indicates that without proper hearing protection, farmers operating conventional tractors may start having hearing loss after only two hours of work. Quieter operation also aids with communication in the field — especially during harvest season. With quieter tractors, these risks are minimized. Workers often use hand signals to communicate over the noise of diesel-powered machinery. Quieter tractors enable easier communication and a safer working environment.
With fewer moving parts compared to internal combustion engines (ICE), wear and tear are limited, increasing the likelihood of longer intervals between service and fewer parts that require replacing (no air filters or oil changes needed). Research by the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that annual maintenance and repair costs for internal combustion engines can range from 10% to 15% of total operational costs — a number that EVs are helping to minimize.
While the upfront investment for an EV tractor is higher than a conventional one, the return on investment (ROI) over time makes it a worthy contender. The savings come from various factors – no need to buy fuel, fewer maintenance costs, and potential grants or incentives, such as California’s CORE program, for the purchase of zero-emission off-road equipment.
The heart of an EV tractor, and indeed the crux of many concerns, is the battery. It's the lifeblood of the tractor's operations, determining how long it can work, how efficiently it runs, and how it impacts the farm's daily tasks. EV battery technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in the automotive industry. Now, agricultural equipment makers are leveraging the technological advancements and learnings of the automotive world and applying it to battery-powered agricultural equipment and machinery.
As EV tractors pave the way to a more efficient and sustainable future of farming, it's essential to delve deeper into the nuances of battery technology, its impact, and how it addresses the key concerns of today's farmers. As we move forward, understanding these aspects will ensure that farmers across America — from Oregon’s grapes to dairy farms in Georgia to Florida’s blueberry farms — can embrace the future with confidence.
What Are the Key Features of EV Tractors?
Electric vehicle tractors, while sharing many similarities with their fuel-powered counterparts, have a suite of features that set them apart. Here’s a closer look at some of the most crucial and advantageous features of EV tractors.
One of the primary benefits of EV tractors is reduced emissions compared to ICE tractors. This not only means a smaller carbon footprint for farms, but also leads to improved air quality in and around the farmlands, which helps support healthier crops, water, and overall environment.
The quieter operation of many EV tractors provides a calmer, less disruptive environment. For farmers, this can mean a work environment that is less stressful and healthier for their tractor drivers, as well as fewer disturbances to livestock, wildlife, and neighboring communities.
EV tractors often also offer improved torque. From the moment they start, they provide maximum power making them particularly useful for tasks that require immediate power, ensuring that the tractor performs optimally from the get-go.
Lower Operating Costs
After the initial investment, the day-to-day expenses of running an EV tractor are substantially lower. Savings on fuel and reduced maintenance can make these tractors more economical in the long run. The 100% electric MK-V by Monarch Tractor is also driver-optional and smart. With these features, farmers also save money by empowering their current workforce to do more without additional farmhands, a valuable benefit in an industry known for its chronic labor shortages. Plus, real-time insights on tractor operations give farm and farm managers the ability to make decisions based on data, not guesswork.
Advanced Tech Integration
In addition to all the above features associated with an electric tractor, some EV tractors come with sophisticated onboard technology — this can include GPS systems for precise field mapping and monitoring systems to track battery life and performance in real-time. With the MK-V, Monarch’s Wingspan Ag Intelligence, or WingspanAI, runs automatic data collection allowing farmers to view personalized data reports and track key metrics. Equipped with 360-degree cameras, this smart tractor also gives farm managers real-time visibility of what’s happening in the field, saving them time.
Addressing the skepticism around battery life, it’s paramount to remember that as the technology evolves, so does a battery’s efficiency and reliability. A farmer's core concerns, such as having enough power to complete daily tasks or length of charging times, have become less of an issue as they are discovering that battery tractors are reliable for long workdays.
Why Are Batteries Important in EV Tractors?
Batteries play a pivotal role in the functioning and efficiency of EV tractors. Just as engines are to conventional tractors, batteries are to EV tractors. They are the primary source of power, driving the vehicle's movements, operations, and integrated technological systems.
With toxic emissions being a concern, many farmers are searching for greener alternatives. EV tractor batteries enable sustainable farming by eliminating the emission of greenhouse gases, thereby reducing a farm’s carbon footprint. When autonomy is paired with an electric tractor, the result can make mowing more cost-effective than using herbicides — both diesel and labor costs associated with increased passes are eliminated.
Energy Storage for Power Outages
For farmers, especially in areas prone to power outages or with unreliable grid connections, the batteries in EV tractors can double as energy storage units. This means that a fully charged tractor can be a source of power for crucial farm operations or even some primary farmstead needs.
Over the long term, the investment in farm electrification pays off. With the rising costs of diesel, EV batteries offer a relatively stable alternative. Moreover, when incentives and rebates offered for off-road, zero-emission vehicles and charging equipment are available, farmers can recoup a part of their initial investment.
What Factors Affect EV Charging Times?
Every farmer values efficiency and consistency, especially for equipment as fundamental as tractors. With the rise of EV charging systems and tractors, understanding the factors that determine charging speeds becomes crucial.
Level of EV Charger
Standard chargers are the most common. They can take several hours to fully charge a battery, making overnight charging ideal. DC (direct current) fast chargers, also called rapid chargers, are more expensive but can significantly reduce times thanks to their rapid charging capability. For farms requiring quick turnarounds, these faster charging times offer a solution.
EV Battery Size and Fullness
A battery’s capacity, often measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh), plays a vital role. Larger batteries generally take longer to charge, but they also offer longer operational hours. If a battery is only partially depleted, it will naturally take less time to recharge than one that is fully drained.
As batteries age, their capacity for fast charging can diminish. Older batteries may hold less charge and may also take more time to reach a full charge.
Maximum Charge Rate
Batteries have a rate at which they can safely accept a charge. Charging beyond this rate can harm the battery's longevity and efficiency.
Heavy workloads can drain batteries faster. If an EV tractor has been used for more intensive tasks or for a longer workday, it might require a longer charging time to recuperate.
How Long Can EV Tractor Batteries Last?
The lifespan of an EV tractor battery depends on various factors, like the type of battery, how much it is used, and the type of environment it is being used in. A tractor that is used heavily for long periods of time, for example, may show battery degradation sooner than a tractor used more sparingly. Add tricky terrain and extreme temperatures to the mix, and your battery may degrade even faster. Because of these factors, EV battery lifespans can vary — however, generally, an EV tractor battery may last anywhere from 8 to 15 years or longer.
It’s also helpful to consider how long EV tractor batteries can hold a charge. Factors like workloads and implements can contribute to varying run times, but EV tractors can generally run for between 6 and 14 hours, with the Monarch MK-V electric tractor having a run time of up to 14 or more hours depending on the farm, operation, and implement. Looking at some of the most common implements, here are a few of the expected run times:
Disc Harrow: 10-12 hours
Undervine Weeder: 8-10 hours
Rotary Mower (2' tall grass): 6-8 hours
Flail Mower (4' tall grass): 4-6 hours
What Are the Future Trends in EV Tractor Charging Technology?
As technology continues to advance, both in the agricultural sector and in general, newer battery technologies will likely continue to surface. These battery technologies could offer longer lifespans, more efficient charging, and better energy density. Solid-state batteries, for example, are being considered as a possible alternative to lithium-ion batteries — however, they may not be ideal in every case.
Between extraction, the refining process, inefficient energy transfer, parts replacement, and emissions association with combustion, the comprehensive environmental toll of fossil fuels like diesel is immense. However, EV batteries have their own concern, that of obtaining lithium. Some research has been conducted around alternative sources for lithium, like geothermal waters, for the sake of minimizing any negative impact on the environment, and this research is expected to continue.
Bring Your Farm Into the Future
The concerns about keeping a tractor in the field for an entire operation are genuine, but technology and foresight can overcome them. For those worried about how long a tractor takes to charge, farmers who are deploying EV tractors in their fields are reporting that battery power through the workday is not an issue. Plus, the cost of charging, especially when compared to traditional fuel expenses, is significantly lower over the long run, bringing tangible savings to the farm.
The real question isn’t just about the battery's longevity. It's also about how adaptable and versatile your farming operations can be in the face of modern challenges. With companies like Monarch offering innovative solutions tailored to farms, it’s clear that the future of farming is becoming sustainable, efficient, and productive.
“What Is an Electric Vehicle?” (2022, April12) Electric For All. www.electricforall.org/what-is-an-electric-car/
Kamps, Joshua D., et al. “Plan for Maintenance to Avoid Costly Repairs with Tractor Ownership.” University of Wisconsin-Madison Farm Management. https://farms.extension.wisc.edu/articles/plan-for-maintenance-to-avoid-costly-repairs-with-tractor-ownership/#:~:text=Annual%20maintenance%20and%20repair%20costs,of%20the%20total%20operational%20cost
“Renewable Energy and Energy Storage Can Help You Power Through Natural Disasters.” U.S. Department of Energy. www.energy.gov/energysaver/articles/renewable-energy-and-energy-storage-can-help-you-power-through-natural
Smith, David W. “Hearing Loss Protection for Agricultural Workers.” Texas A&M. https://agsafety.tamu.edu/files/2011/06/HEARING-LOSS-PROTECTION2.pdf
Early, Catherine. “The New 'Gold Rush' for Green Lithium.” BBC.