An Otago cherry farm is now even more climate friendly, and resilient, with the launch of the country’s first driver-optional, fully electric tractor, thanks to support from EECA’s (Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority) Technology Demonstration Fund.

Otago cherry farmer Mike Casey says the arrival of his Californian MK-V Monarch tractor means they are now offering an entirely fossil fuel free product – proving the potential for fossil-free farming.

“It shows what’s possible in a rural setting with off-road electrification and how well New Zealand is positioned to make the most of this,” said Casey, the owner of Forest Lodge Orchard in Cromwell.

“New Zealand’s highly renewable grid means the tractor has a big impact right away because the energy used is already low emissions.

“We have a huge agricultural industry and technology like this helps us be better farmers and contribute to the electrification of New Zealand – that’s what makes the whole thing so much more exciting.”

According to EECA, off-road transport contributes 2.86MT of C02-e emissions each year, using 1.1 billion litres of fossil fuels. Use of fossil fuels on farms also goes beyond transport and powers many of the machines such as frost fighting and generators.

Richard Briggs, EECA GM Transport says the availability, performance and the overall cost of decarbonisation made the tractor stand out as an interesting project with high replicability.

“Collectively, diesel-fueled tractors are a major source of on farm energy related carbon emissions, so electrifying them is a key opportunity,” said Briggs.

“There are about 1,000 similar sized tractors sold each year in New Zealand – this is just the first cab off the rank and there are many other transport technologies which also have potential.

“There will likely be opportunity for more and bigger electric tractors in the future.”

The Monarch tractor is the only autonomous electric tractor in the world, currently available – New Zealand is the first country the Monarch tractor has been exported to outside of the United States. This in part has been due to the establishment of the NZ California International Climate Partnership last year. The new deal on climate change has provided a solid framework for Forest Lodge Orchard to be able to work with Monarch on this project.

“We are moving more into supporting our agricultural producers to facilitate clean energy solutions and it’s very exciting to see this come off the line,” said Briggs.

“But we know there is significantly more energy and emissions savings potential – the industry is still young.”

Briggs says supporting businesses like Forest Lodge Orchard, which trades as New Zealand Zero, is also helping get New Zealand ready for a low emissions economy.

“Customers and business stakeholders are increasingly interested in the sustainability of business practices. Investing in clean and clever technology will help future proof and protect brand value,” said Briggs.

Casey says he has already noted considerable interest in electric tractors by the horticulture and viticulture sectors and battery-powered, electric off-road vehicles could be a game-changer for farmers in more ways than one. For example, the Monarch tractor is bi-directional so when it is not in use it can act as a back-up battery, creating resilience benefits for farming.

“Innovations such as the Monarch tractor can also provide on-farm energy resilience, and in time there may also be an additional revenue stream from providing power back to the grid,” said Casey.

“You can think of the tractor like a generator on wheels – it has got a battery significantly larger than a typical EV to run irrigation pumps, charge vehicles and continue frost fighting, and to run the farm for hours if there's a power cut or natural disaster.

“We can charge the tractor with a normal EV charger, and using solar which means we are able to charge it without putting any burden on the grid.

“The tractor by itself is cool, but the tractor integrated with everything else makes it so much more powerful.”

An essential piece of farm equipment, a tractor is used for a variety of jobs including spraying, mowing, mulching, weeding, and levelling.

Additional information

EECA co-funded $46,000 for the Monarch tractor through its Technology Demonstration Fund.

EECA's Technology Demonstration Fund is designed to support energy and carbon savings through the early adoption of proven technology or an innovative process improvement opportunity that has yet to be widely deployed in New Zealand.

Projects need to meet certain criteria related to the cost of energy savings and carbon abatement. In addition, projects need to show demonstration value to enable replication by industry without future government funding support.

Technologies considered for funding need to be commercially available, or in the case of New Zealand developed technologies, need to be proven and near commercialisation. Funding is restricted to the user of the technology, and not provided to the developer or supplier of the technology.

This is the 66th electric tractor that Monarch has produced and the first one to be exported out of the US.