- Electric Vehicles
Electric Tractors Could Help Reduce Emissions
Electric tractors present an opportunity for growth for both new and established tractor manufacturers. In recent years, a handful of new companies have entered the tractor market with the goal of producing a commercially viable, widely available, all-electric tractor. That goal might soon be realized.
Electric Tractor Manufacturers Bring Products to Market
In 2015, Solectrac, a California-based company focused on producing battery-powered electric tractors, claimed to have introduced the first commercially available electric tractor in the US. In February 2021, Solectrac launched a reservation program for its all-electric tractors requiring only a $1,000 deposit—a significant step toward making all-electric tractors widely available in the US.
In April 2021, Monarch, another company offering an all-electric, automated tractor, completed the first deployment of its flagship tractor at a vineyard in California. The initial markets for these tractors are vineyards and fruit and nut orchards where the work is not as machine labor-intensive and automated, compact tractors are more useful. Monarch announced this deployment as the first of 15 pilot deployments before production deliveries begin in 4Q 2021.
Solectrac and Monarch both entered the market with a specific focus on electric tractors, but investment in electric tractors has also attracted interest from established tractor manufacturers. Over the past few years, John Deere has announced the development of both automated and semi-automated, fully electric tractors. John Deere’s automated tractor, the Joker, is a compact electric-drive tractor with a total output of 500 kW. The Joker is currently only a concept, but John Deere’s investment in EV R&D indicates the company’s belief that widespread adoption of electric tractors might not be far away.
The Benefit (and Cost) of Electrifying Tractors
The environmental benefit of electrifying tractors is, and will likely remain, the driving force behind electric tractor adoption. Switching from a diesel tractor to an electric tractor has the primary benefit of eliminating vehicle emissions and the need for engine and gear oil. But beyond their environmental benefit, electric tractors are more energy efficient, have less wear, and have lower operating and maintenance costs than diesel models.
Although electric tractors have numerous benefits, a significant barrier to adoption is the high cost of electric models—in most cases, electric models are significantly more expensive than diesel models. And although electric tractors have proven to be capable farming machines, their low energy density compared with diesel models means that they require more frequent refueling. A diesel tractor can generally run for 10-12 hours before needing to refuel, whereas an electric model can run only 3-6 hours. This problem can be partially solved by using a replaceable battery pack that can be quickly swapped out, but the need to swap batteries still presents an inconvenience.
It will likely be a few more years before electric tractors begin to make real inroads in the market, but companies such as Monarch and Solectrac have shown that producing a commercially available, all-electric tractor is possible. Further investment in R&D over the coming years is likely to speed adoption of all-electric models by further driving down costs and increasing performance. Although the electrification of tractors might take some time, elsewhere on the farm, Internet of Things (IoT) solutions are already helping farmers to improve operations, production, and efficiency. To learn more about IoT solutions for farming and agriculture, check out Guidehouse Insights’ recent report looking at sensors, drones, data analytics, and connectivity in agriculture.