Electric tractors for (truly) green farming
Electric farm vehicles are crucial for sustainable food production and curbing greenhouse gas emissions by the forestry and farming sector, which is responsible for 20% of emissions worldwide.
The planet has a problem or more to the point, seven billion problems. Seven billion mouths to feed. The forestry and farming sector has one of the greatest impacts on the environment which is also one of the most difficult to solve because food is a basic need and fundamental right of everyone in the world.
As consumers, we are increasingly conscious of the food we eat and how it is grown, especially with regard to protecting ourselves from the health risks that using chemicals in food production may pose. Nevertheless, we often overlook the implications of our habits not only for our well-being but for the planet.
Arable and livestock farming is contributing to climate change and if we do not act quickly, the climate may make it impossible to grow many of the foods we consume today: bread today, hunger tomorrow.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), “especially in the tropics, rising temperatures will result in higher evaporation and reduce soil moisture. Many areas will become unsuitable for cultivation and the tropical grasslands will become increasingly arid”. “Warming,” the FAO report continues, “will cause agricultural pests to spread across a wider area and be more persistent over the year”.
Arable and livestock farming is the human activity that takes up the most space – 37% of the planet’s surface – and uses two-thirds of the water consumed by humans. It is also one of the contributors to water pollution caused by fertilisers, pesticides and other chemicals and manure from large farming operations.
Furthermore, it is responsible for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, the FAO reports. But it is not all bad news: agriculture is also playing a role in tackling climate change. “With a 50% cut in emissions from fossil fuels and conservation agriculture, up to one tonne of CO2 per hectare of cultivated land could be sequestered from the atmosphere”, the FAO study found.
Crops absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, ‘sequestering’ the gas from the atmosphere and turning it into oxygen that is released into the air and carbon that plants use for growth. Nonetheless, the sector’s beneficial effect is offset by the use of fossil fuels to power farm machinery.
Electric, driverless tractors
“Farm machinery is heading towards environmental sustainability. We need to feed a growing population, but different systems must be used to do so and machinery is becoming increasingly cutting edge. We are talking about GPS, drones, soil analysis to identify what products need to be applied”, Alfonso Tajada, President of Spain’s National Association of Farm Machinery and Tractors (ANSEMAT), highlighted in a recent interview. “Several very well-known brands and multinationals are currently developing electric tractors that they claim will be on the farm machinery market in 2020. Driverless tractors are a reality that already exists. The change is impressive”.
Sector leaders such as John Deer and Fendt now have prototypes ready for launch. Most of the tractors have separate electric motors for powering the vehicle and for the hydraulic equipment such as ploughs and cranes to boost efficiency.
The American giant unveiled its John Deer SESAM model two years ago, which has 400 horse power and a separate battery for its implements that is more powerful than a Tesla and can be used when the tractor is not running, avoiding the annoying thrum of a diesel engine. The manufacturer also says the new model will require less maintenance than a conventional vehicle.
Meanwhile, the German manufacturer Fendt has started testing the e100 Vario this year. Smaller than the John Deer, it has a power output of 50 kW and can operate for up to five hours in actual operating conditions. Energy is supplied by a 650 V high performance lithium-ion battery with a capacity of approximately 100 kWh. A standard CCS type 2 plug means the battery can be recharged up to 80% in 40 minutes.
If a farm uses renewable power such as biogas, solar or wind power, charging and operating the tractor will be CO2 neutral and extremely economical. At the same time, the high-capacity battery can store excess power and feed it back into the grid.
But the farming revolution is not just going to affect western countries; it is crucial that it also has an impact in the major farming areas of developing countries that undoubtedly need to boost production. The Indian manufacturer Escorts Group has also launched a small 19 kW tractor, which it hopes will be used on farms across the most heavily populated country on earth.
In short, electric tractors are the perfect companion for a farmer, a major step to controlling emissions, and also great for the pocket because using diesel is now a thing of the past.