The arrival of the New Zealand’s first driver-optional, fully electric Californian MK-V Monarch tractor means Otago cherry farmer Mike Casey can now offer an entirely fossil fuel free product – the first of its kind in New Zealand.

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

“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.” 

The 6-hectare high density Forest Lodge Orchard in Cromwell received $46,000 co-funding for the Monarch tractor from EECA’s through its Technology Demonstration Fund.

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. Battery-powered, electric off-road vehicles could be a game-changer for farmers.

Mike Casey, Owner, Forest Lodge

The electric move

Off-road transport contributes 2.86MT of C02-e emissions each year, using 1.1 billion litres of fossil fuels. The use of fossil fuels on farms also goes beyond transport with petrol and diesel powering many of the machines such as frost fighting and generators.  

The Monarch tractor is the only autonomous electric tractor currently available in the world. New Zealand is the first country the Monarch tractor has been exported to outside of the United States. 

The tractor is also bi-directional so when it is not in use it can act as a back-up battery, creating resilience benefits for farming.  

Mike says there has been significant interest in electric tractors from the horticulture and viticulture sectors.

“Innovations like this can provide on-farm energy resilience. We can charge the tractor with a normal EV charger, and use solar which means we are able to charge it without putting any burden on the grid.”

“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.”  

The cherry on top

Forest Lodge produces cherries with an all-electric operation including the tractor, ride-on mower, customised golf cart and electric frost-fighting fans (also supported by the Technology Demonstration Fund).

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

Mike says with the support from the Technology Demonstration Fund, the payback period for the electric tractor has been brought down from 16 years to 6. There will also be a $50,000 reduction in energy costs – a win-win.

Driving to innovate

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. 

“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,” said Richard.   

While the industry is still young, there will likely be opportunity for more and bigger electric tractors in the future.

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