Cleaning Up the Agricultural Sector

Published online: Mar 11, 2021 Articles, New Products Stephen Heckeroth, Founder & CEO, Solectrac
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This article appears in the March 2021 issue of Potato Grower.

While electric cars, two-wheelers, buses and trucks now dot urban landscapes across the globe and reflect a growing desire to move away from fuel-burning vehicles, there’s a quiet revolution happening off the beaten path. Recognizing the need to both modernize the agricultural sector, as well as mitigate its contribution to global warming, environmentally minded farmers are changing the way they work. And the timing couldn’t be more appropriate. 

In 2021, the United Nations will convene the world’s first Food Systems Summit as part of the Decade of Action to achieve its 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, with a call to all stakeholders—from scientists and policymakers to indigenous groups and farmers—to work together in bringing about tangible, positive changes to the world’s food systems.

The health of farms is directly correlated to the environment and the health of food, which affects individuals, communities and economies. Currently, according to the USDA, activities related to agriculture account for 10.5 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gases. With that number likely to rise if no action is taken, forward-thinking farmers are shifting to smart technologies not only to remediate damage to the environment but also to ensure crop resiliency, worker safety and profitability. 

Among innovations such as soil and crop sensors and real-time monitoring solutions, electric tractors are poised to play an important role in the next giant leap, helping to decrease dependency on fossil fuels while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In Canada and California (which accounts for 12.5 percent of the total U.S. agricultural production), Solectrac is rolling out a line of 100 percent battery-powered, all-electric tractors spanning compact, utility and farming models. The first in North America to manufacture and distribute climate-smart electric tractors, the company currently distributes a 30-horsepower diesel-equivalent compact electric tractor, which is a versatile, four-wheel-drive utility vehicle for hobby farms, greenhouses, golf courses and landscape maintenance in municipalities. Its 40-horsepower diesel-equivalent eUtility, which is ideal for farm and livestock operations, smaller vineyards, equestrian centers and other utility type work, is available in North America now and expected to be available internationally in 2022. The 30-horsepower diesel-equivalent eFarmer, which is expected to be available in the second half of 2021, provides unparalleled visibility and maneuverability for the next generation of row crop farming.

Considering California’s aggressive zero-emissions mandate, it’s the perfect test bed for Solectrac’s technology. The state’s intent to phase out gasoline-powered cars and trucks by 2035 to fight climate change is indicative of a much broader, global movement. And for good reason. In addition to charging from the electrical grid, electric tractors can be powered by clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar, helping farmers gain independence from infrastructure constraints and the price volatility associated with fossil fuels. Electric motors also have significantly fewer parts, reducing the time and cost of the complex maintenance needed to keep fossil-fueled engines running. In fact, Solectrac e-tractors’ motors have one moving part, compared to around 300 moving parts in the engines of diesel-powered tractors.

For farmers using tractors powered by internal combustion engines, the value proposition to convert to electric is compelling. In Uxbridge, Ontario, for example, Wheelbarrow Farm has been using one of Solectrac’s first eUtility tractors since August 2018. After just six months, owner Tony Neal said the electric tractor helped save approximately 50 percent in power costs, not to mention future maintenance savings from a tractor with just one moving part. In an interview with a local publication, Neal explained how community contributions helped him install 10 kilowatts of solar panels, which charge his tractor in about five hours. When not utilized for the tractor, the panels heat his home and run other equipment.

While the financial and environmental benefits are obvious, electric tractors also offer significant health benefits to workers. Not only can diesel fumes contribute to respiratory problems in the farming community, they operate at a decibel level that can result in hearing loss over prolonged periods of exposure. On the other spectrum, electric tractors are non-polluting and quiet, allowing for a safer environment that protects hearing and enables easier communication with other workers while the tractor is operating.

Bringing the best of technology to farming will undoubtedly change the way we feed the world. With the UN General Assembly designating 2021 the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (IYFV), farmers have an opportunity to shine a light on one of the oldest industries in human history and take positive steps toward ensuring better health for people and our planet.

 

Learn more about Solectrac electric tractors at www.solectrac.com