- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Zero-emission tractors perform many tasks of diesel tractors, without noise or exhaust
The University of California, a national leader in sustainability, has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025. To reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources has replaced several of its diesel-powered tractors with electric tractors at its research and extension centers.
Seven of the nine UC research and extension centers – Intermountain located in Siskiyou County, Hopland in Mendocino County, Kearney and West Side in Fresno County, Lindcove in Tulare County, Desert in Imperial County and Hansen in Ventura County – started using the Solectrac e25 in July. The researchers plan to share what they learn from using the electric tractors.
“Charging is easy, we are using a standard 110V connection, no charging station needed,” said John Bailey, director of the University of California Hopland Research and Extension Center. “For faster charging, you can use a 220V connection – again, no charging station needed, just a regular receptacle – but we haven't gone there yet.”
The electric tractor runs for about five hours, depending on the type of use and the speed, on a charge.
“We will use the electric tractor to mix the soil for planting trees in the greenhouse,” said Ashraf El-kereamy, director of UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center in Exeter, which focuses on citrus research. “Also, for pulling the trailer with the fruit bins during harvest, it will be good as it does not emit any gases.”
The electric tractor is being used to move materials in the loader at UC Hopland REC. “It has worked well for this, functioning similarly to a standard diesel tractor,” said Bailey.
“We have also used it to clean our sheep barn, scraping the pens to get ready for lambing season,” Bailey said. “This involves pushing or dragging straw bedding and manure. The tractor functions well in tight spaces due to its compact size.”
Bailey learned one downside is that the front end is a little too light, making it difficult to generate enough downward pressure with the loader to effectively scrape the floor without reducing the front wheel traction.
“We are planning to add some weight to the front, a standard practice with tractors to increase traction. The tractor has the mounting to enable this so it should not be a big deal,” Bailey said. “Our operators really appreciate the lack of noise and exhaust, especially when working in the barn or in tight spaces.”
The small electric tractor is also being used in tight places at the UC Intermountain Research and Extension Center in Tulelake.
“The tractor that we obtained from the company is too small for the majority of our farm needs,” said Rob Wilson, Intermountain REC director. “We purchased a small box scraper and rototiller for the tractor and we are using it around our facility grounds. We also use it out in the field in tight spaces that are too small for our larger tractors to operate.”
“The tractor is quiet, powerful for its size and operates very similar to the diesel-powered tractors with regard to the controls, hydraulics and three-point assembly. The tractor also has a lot of torque and speed.”
Annemiek Schilder, director of UC Hansen Agricultural REC, added, “I think another advantage is that the tractors can go very slowly, which is helpful for some uses such as harvesting.”
Kearney, or KARE, will be using its electric tractor to mow and rototill in smaller, narrow blocks and will use the front loader to move and apply mulch and soil mixtures.
“We will use it around buildings because it's quiet and doesn't emit any gas,” said Vincent Silva, Kearney's superintendent of agriculture. “The main issue I have with the electric tractor is with it being so quiet, it may not allow us to hear any problems."
The researchers will continue to evaluate the electric tractors throughout the year.
“Our main usage will come in the spring, mowing around our headquarters and on roadsides,” Bailey said. “We are purchasing a 4-foot flail mower that can mount to the rear PTO, but won't really put it into use until April.” The power take-off, or PTO, is the shaft that transfers power from the tractor to the attachment.
Other benefits of electric tractors include no engine oil to change and no diesel fuel.
“If the farmer already has solar, they will see close to zero fuel charges,” Bailey added. “Even without solar, their fuel costs should be reduced depending on local electrical cost. Also, the engine only has one moving part compared to dozens in a diesel tractor so maintenance costs should be reduced significantly, something that is proving true in electric cars.”
The Solectrac e25 tractors each cost $27,999 and the optional loader was about $4,000.
The California Air Resources Board is offering incentives to buy zero-emission equipment through its Funding Agricultural Replacement Measures for Emission Reductions Program. FARMER provides funding through local air districts for agricultural harvesting equipment, heavy-duty trucks, agricultural pump engines, tractors and other equipment used in agricultural operations.