Electric tractors as perfectly suited for small-scale agriculture at least. The proof comes from a 2003 issue [PDF] of the Northeast Organic Farm Association’s Natural Farmer newsletter, republished here. Yes, it’s true, says the author, electric tractors are designed for mowing and light work. But people have also been converting diesel tractors to electric for real farm use with great results:
Ron Khosla, a small-scale organic farmer in New York state has converted an Allis Chalmers G to electric and told me “Our electric ‘G’ is absolutely the most important tractor on the farm. It has three times the power of the original ‘G’ which is huge and [has] enough battery life to do everything we need to on our diversified 8-acre farm… It’s totally silent. You can creep along MUCH more slowly than we could with gas. It’s silent. It doesn’t smell. It’s NO MAINTENANCE…
“It also has changed the way we operate the tractor. This is a psychological thing, but it’s real. With the gas tractor, we were less likely to stop in the middle of the row to adjust things, or clean a shoe, or whatever. With the [electric] tractor… somehow there is psychologically less inertia… And we stop ALL THE TIME to make final adjustments which has resulted in a better job. When you stop, you are stopped. No engine running. It’s just quiet and silent, no cloud of white smoke drifting over your head… nothing… Perfect silence. THIS is what sustainable farming is supposed to be about!”
His initial conversion was fairly simple, using a common series wound DC motor, golf cart controller, and regular lead-acid batteries. After learning the hard way how to care for the batteries, he has added meters, deep-cycle golf-cart batteries, and a better charger. He is planning to do a second conversion as part of SARE grant, which will include documenting the process via a web site.
Photo: cwalker71 via FlickrMaybe Hewson’s concern about muddy mid-field electric tractor maintenance is a bit misplaced. An important element in all this (and overlooked by Hewson) is this fact that weight and low torque are advantages for tractors. In practice that appears to mean that heavy, low-voltage “old-fashioned” lead acid batteries will do just fine. No need for high-end, high voltage and pricey lithium ion batteries after all. Anyway, it does indeed appear that a small farm can manage with an electric tractor.