Agriculture This Week - Electric tractors; in time they will come

I must say I am fascinated when I see a headline asking ‘Are we ready for electric tractors?’

To begin with I am among those who believe, given a natural progression of things, the world will move toward less internal combustion engines burning gasoline and diesel.

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That does not mean a complete shutdown of such fuel sources, but rather opting where possible for cleaner alternatives. It’s actually a winning vision in the sense any conversion actually extends the life expectancy of non-renewable fuel sources which means having them for critical uses where they prove the best option – passenger airplanes coming to mind as perhaps a key area that will long require fossil fuels.

But that swerves me away from the starting premise of whether electric tractors are viable?

Certainly electric tractors are possible. Technologies exist today.

The question is more about how the cost of electric tractors compare to more traditional power sources? And, do they do the job as efficiently?

The idea of tractors roving fields with essentially long, retractable extension cords attached seems a tad strange, but at one time the mere idea of tractors taking over from horses was seen as fantasy, and I am sure my grandfather, were he alive, would stand in some awe at the sheer size of today’s largest farm tractors.

It is likely, as farming evolves toward electric power tractors, units are going to be smaller, the equipment smaller as well, with the technology being married to autonomous controls. It seems the most logical to go smaller, but have the ability to program the unit to run without an ‘on the seat’ operator, for much longer hours.

For an industry that has been going in a directly opposite direction, farm units growing ever-larger, with horsepower of tractors and the width of equipment growing to match the additional acres. The idea of smaller will be a near paradigm shift for many producers, who have over the last several decades seen tractors get bigger and bigger with every purchase made.

Farmers are also going to question whether electric can deliver the needed power, although that will be a factor dealt with by smaller equipment in my mind. It comes down to seeing two smaller units at work over longer hours covering the same acres, a system that works depending on the overall associate costs of both systems.

Like most developments, from the growing of canola to zero-till farming, a few farmers will need to be early adopters of the technology, the in-field provers of the concept, and then electric will find its place in the farm sector.

Calvin Daniels is Editor with Yorkton This Week.

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