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.”
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.
Wine grape growers in the San Joaquin Valley who want to switch from hand pruning to mechanical pruning won't have to replant their vineyards to accommodate machinery, according to a new study published in HortTechnology by University of California Cooperative Extension researchers. Instead, growers can retrain the vines to make the transition, without losing fruit yield or quality.
Mechanical pruning reduced labor costs by 90%, resulted in increased grape yields and had no impact on the grape berry's anthocyanin content. That's welcome news for growers because the cost of re-establishing a vineyard in the region is roughly $15,600 per acre.
“We found that growers do not have to plant a new vineyard to mechanize their operations,” said Kaan Kurtural, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology. “We have proven beyond a doubt that an older vineyard can be converted to mechanization. There is no loss in yield during conversion and post-conversion yield is better and fruit quality is equivalent to or better than hand-managed vines. The economies of scale are evident in the savings per acre and per vine as depicted in the balance sheet provided with the newly published paper.”
The research was conducted in an 8-acre portion of a 53-acre, 20-year-old Merlot vineyard in Madera County. After completion of the research project, the grower converted the rest of the 53-acre vineyard to single high-wire sprawling system. Many other wine grape growers have followed suit.
The Wine Group, which manages 13,000 acres of vineyards across Central California, is establishing new vineyards and converting old vineyards for mechanical pruning and suckering, said vineyard manager Nick Davis. Davis, who works closely with Kurtural and the UCCE viticulture advisor in Fresno County, George Zhuang, said the company greatly values the UC Cooperative Extension research that is guiding the changes.
“I think extensionists are undervalued,” Davis said. “We lean on them for applied research, which has been wonderful. They offer us what we can't provide ourselves.”
More than half of all California wine grapes are grown in the San Joaquin Valley. Worker shortages, rising labor costs, low returns and occasional droughts are driving wine grape growers to seek innovative ways to sustain their businesses.
“To help growers maintain the profitability of their vineyards, we're studying the use of machines to reduce the number of people needed to perform tasks like pruning,” Zhuang said.
“Because the canopy architecture and yield characteristics of mechanically pruned vines are different from vines that are hand-pruned, the water and fertilizer requirements for the mechanically pruned vines can be quite different. So we are studying the yield and fruit quality of grapes produced on different rootstocks in mechanical pruning systems in the San Joaquin Valley,” Zhuang said.
The Madera field study was conducted for three consecutive seasons in the hot climate conditions typical of the San Joaquin Valley. In this area, traditional vineyards are head-trained to a 38-inch-tall trunk above the vineyard floor and two eight-node canes are laid on a catch wire in opposite directions and two eight-node canes are attached to a 66-inch high catch wire. Although this traditional training system can work for mechanical harvesting, it doesn't accommodate mechanical dormant pruning and shoot removal with limited success in other mechanical canopy management operations.
To accommodate mechanical pruning and shoot removal, the vines were converted to a bilateral cordon-trained, spur-pruned California sprawl training system, or to a bilateral cordon-trained, mechanically box-pruned single high-wire sprawling system.
The latter option proved to be the most successful system for mechanical pruning in the San Joaquin Valley.
Glenda Humiston has always been involved in rural issues from her days growing up on a cattle ranch to her current efforts to connect rural communities to more resources as University of California vice president for agriculture and natural resources.
In recognition of her contributions to sustain California as a place to create and thrive and to bestow to future generations, Humiston will be presented the 2018 California Steward Leader Award by California Forward and the California Stewardship Network at the California Economic Summit in Santa Rosa on Nov. 16. She currently serves on the 2018 Economic Summit Steering Committee and is the Action Team co-lead for Working Landscapes and co-chair of Elevate Rural California.
She has been involved with the California Economic Summit from the beginning, chairing the Access to Capital Action Team at the first Summit in 2012. To raise awareness of innovative options for financing projects, she founded and chaired the California Financial Opportunities Roundtable and was instrumental in producing the Access to Capital Guidebook, a widely used resource for small business owners, policymakers and financial institutions.
Humiston served as deputy undersecretary for natural resources and environment at USDA from 1998 to 2001 under President Clinton. She then managed the Sustainable Development Institute at the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development in South Africa and the 2006 World Water Forum in Mexico City. In 2009, Humiston was appointed by President Obama to serve as the California State Director at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Rural Development.
Working landscapes a significant sector of the economy
He added, “The fact that rural issues are on the agenda, the fact that we're talking about ecosystem services and the contributions that Working Landscapes can make in terms of meeting the Economic Summit's million-acre feet of water goal, Glenda has done a tremendous amount to make that possible.”
Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore agreed. “Glenda is a powerful and relentless advocate for triple bottom line prosperity. She has championed and delivered in every position I have seen her in. As one of the Co-chairs/Steering Committee for the Economic Summit, she has ensured that working landscapes remains a driver for rural prosperity.”
“Glenda embodies what CA Forward and the California Stewardship Network are all about: empowering regional hubs to own their own future,” added Gore, who served with Humiston at the U.S. Department of Agriculture as presidential appointees under President Obama.
Her work on rural issues continues. “Our Ecosystems Services Team has done a fantastic job in highlighting the opportunities for ecosystem services to be a powerful policy instrument as well as a compensation instrument for landowners to ensure that the many benefits from ecosystem services are available to the general public,” Humiston said. She added that recommendations from last year's Summit may be included in upcoming legislation.
Biomass, rural broadband and water infrastructure
As co-chair of Elevate Rural California, she is working on three main areas: biomass, rural broadband and water infrastructure. “We identified those issues at last year's Summit and worked this year to identify where the opportunities were as well as options to pursue. We're bringing that information to the Summit this year to get people to really rally around those three issues and move forward working on implementation.”
To support these initiatives, Humiston is working to enhance economic development efforts throughout the state by ensuring that the research and resources of the University of California are delivered to every single community in the state. UC Cooperative Extension is in 70 communities and serves all 58 counties; its mission is to conduct research and extend knowledge that supports food security, healthy environments, science literacy, youth development and economic success in a global economy.
Humiston, who joined the university in 2015 and clearly loves her work, said, “I love the mission of the programs I oversee for the University of California. This work is critical as we seek solutions to the challenges we all face: climate change, invasive species, changing workforce demands, water management and more.”
Vision based on partnerships
Her vision is really based on partnerships. “I also see great opportunity for increased collaboration between UC, CSU and the Community Colleges," she said. "Working together we can offer more robust support for innovation, regional industry clusters, new business opportunities and other aspects of local economic development; we can bring a lot of resources to the table. Working with the California Economic Summit allows us to leverage the resources of various regional initiatives as well as other sectors; this helps all the Summit's efforts to be more successful.”
As for the award, Humiston is humbled. “It's quite heart-warming to be selected by people I respect for something like that and certainly to be in the company of people who have won it in past years,” she said.
Previous recipients of the California Steward Leader Award include former California State Senator Becky Morgan, California Emerging Technology Fund's Sunne McPeak and Van Ton-Quinlivan, vice chancellor of the California Community Colleges.
Humiston will receive the award on Friday, Nov. 16, at the annual gathering of the California Economic Summit in Santa Rosa.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
The Third Annual Open Farm comes to the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier Oct. 3. Open Farm is a gathering hosted each year by the farming community to connect technology vendors, academics and growers to accelerate the digital transformation of the food and agriculture sector.
The meeting runs from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Registration is free for growers and government employees; $20 for representatives of power and water utilities; and $40 for vendors. Register on the Eventbrite webpage. (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/3rd-annual-open-farm-tickets-48793567875) Continuing education credits will be offered.
The Kearney REC is at 9240 S. Riverbend Ave., Parlier, Calif.
The Open Farm event features:
- Keynote address by Glenda Humiston, vice president, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources
- Field demonstrations of 3D mapping of research fields using drones, automation of irrigation and fertigation, and comparison of water measurement methods to prepare for the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
- Peer reviewed research presentations on agronomy, monitoring, robotics and data mining
- An industry panel with growers and food processors
Open Farm 2018 sponsors and partners are:
- UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR)
- The VINE, Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship
- West Hills College, Coalinga
- California State University, Fresno
- PowWow Energy
- WiseConn Engineering
- Blue River Technologies
- Bowles Farming Company
Open Farm started in 2016 at Terranova Ranch with the support of a research grant from the California Energy Commission (EPC-14-081). In 2017, the event grew to a wider gathering with peer-reviewed presentations organized by UC ANR and field demonstrations led by West Hills College. Both organizations are involved in the broadband initiative to bring better broadband services in the Central Valley.
“The future of ag tech innovation and implementation on the West Side depends on access to broadband internet in the fields,” said Terry Brase, ag science instructor at West Hills Community College. “West Hills is proud to partner with UC ANR to champion an initiative that would make this possible for local growers.”
PowWow Energy, Pumpsight and WiseConn Engineering are examples of companies that have worked with the farming community and established application programmable interfaces (API) that allow farmers to protect their data and get the different applications to talk to each other.
“It makes the lives of growers easier, not harder,” said Olivier Jerphagon, founder and CEO of PowWow Energy, Inc.
The three vendors went through the Water Energy Technology (WET) center at Fresno State, which is one of the incubators in California connected by the VINE.
“Agriculture needs standards to support the better integration of systems and data to make using technology easier and less expensive, while protecting the privacy of farms,” said Gabe Youtsey, UC ANR chief innovation officer. “We need to work together across industry, academia and government to share best practices and form partnerships to solve real problems and adapt the integration of software and data to the needs agriculture. This is why we started the VINE.”
The VINE – the Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship – is a connected community of innovators and resources that sustainable agriculture and food innovators can leverage, including incubators, research labs, field testing facilities, mentors and industry experts.
“The food and agriculture industry is changing fast, and for an organization like ours to add value, we have to understand the diversity of innovation that is happening in the industry,” said Helle Petersen of Fresno State's WET Center. “The VINE community helps us navigate the field, and leverages the many assets of our region. The Open Farm is one of those opportunities, a unique event that brings together researchers, farmers, industry and others to share their knowledge, best practices and find opportunities for partnerships.”
Among the advanced teams, the University of Georgia, University of Florida and UC Davis finished second, third and fourth, respectively. Zhejiang University and Clemson University claimed those runner-up spots among the beginner teams. The beginners' race was especially tight, with the top two teams achieving perfect scores. CAU used speed to edged out Zhejiang, completing the required technical task one second faster than Zhejiang. Teams from Cal Poly (6th place) and UC Merced (7th place) also competed on the beginners board.
“All the teams incorporated innovative solutions in their robot designs,” says ASABE member Alireza Pourreza, University of California Cooperative Extension agricultural mechanization specialist, who coordinated the 2018 event.
This year's challenge involved identification, sorting, and harvesting of apples. The robots were required to autonomously harvest “apples” on a field measuring 8 feet by 8 feet. The robots identified and selected eight mature apples (red ping-pong balls), removed and disposed of eight diseased or rotten apples (blue ping-pong balls) and left eight immature apples (green ping-pong balls) on the tree.
"China Agricultural University's Dream team presents one of the more prodigious designs in competition, covering two lanes at once and picking apples flawlessly," tweeted Michael Gutierrez, a University of Florida Extension water specialist, @IrriGatorUF https://twitter.com/IrriGatorUF/status/1024285164682264577.
“The increasing interest in the ASABE robotics competition every year reflects a global response to the need of automation and robotics in agriculture,” explains Pourreza, who is based at UC Davis. “We aim to motivate young agricultural engineers to engage more with robotics and acquire an early-career experience that will prepare them for the future of agriculture and smart farming.”
Fifteen university teams from the U.S., Canada and China competed in this year's contest. Sponsored by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, the ASABE Robotics Student Design Competition allows undergraduate and graduate students to develop skills in robotic systems, electronics and sensing technologies by simulating a robotics solution to a common agricultural process.
Founded in 1907, ASABE is an international scientific and educational organization dedicated to the advancement of engineering applicable to agricultural, food and biological systems.
MORE INFORMATION: 2018 ASABE robotics competition website: https://www.asabe.org/Awards-Competitions/Student-Awards-Competitions-Scholarships/Robotics-Student-Design-Competition
Video of 2016 competition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1ymUiCr3Mc
Video of 2017 competition: https://vimeo.com/250379863