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December 8, 2020
Editor's Note: There's video at the end of this story that shows the new tractor in action. Video provided by Monarch Tractor.
There's a movement underway in power equipment with an aim of bringing in electric power where possible. For Praveen Penmetsa, that work means more than creating some basic product. "We want to go in with no compromise and say that this is the best compact tractor in the world, that's our goal," he says.
Penmetsa is CEO and Co-Founder of Monarch Tractor, a startup whose first product was unveiled Dec. 8. The new machine, while electric powered, has a range of enhanced features aiming to pioneer this carbon neutral approach to farming. While just unveiled, the company is promising delivery in the fall of 2021.
"We have three legs [of a stool], sustainability, cost savings and working to increase yield," he says. "This is an all-electric tractor, but it is capable of driverless operation."
The sustainable part of the equation is that electric system. Penmetsa explains that the machine has a large battery married to the latest in automotive technology and proprietary tools from Monarch Tractor and can deliver, during normal use, up to 12 hours of operation.
"Our tractor operates at 40 horsepower all day long, but because we're electric we can do up to 70 horsepower, which is huge," he says.
Penmetsa explains that operating time can be influenced by what the machine is doing. For example, if involved with a PTO-intensive practice, that could eat up power faster. To keep the machine working for a full shift, the Monarch Tractor has a swappable battery. A practice that is familiar on the factory floor where electric forklifts have long been used and translates to the farm. When the battery is low, you swap in a fully charged one and go back to work.
This is a fully capable compact tractor with hydraulics and a PTO, he adds. "This tractor can work with any implement designed for a compact tractor," he says. And for orchards, vineyards and other lighter duty tasks, this machine fits the bill. But with that top end of 70 hp, it can be deployed in a wide range of farm chores.
When Monarch Tractor first started designing its electric machine, the first approach was to swap in an electric motor for the diesel engine back in 2016. What Penmetsa says he learned was that the 25 hp tractor he tested in India and California might hit a specific cost target for electric power. "But that was not going to have a huge impact on farm operations," he says.
That turned Monarch Tractor's developers toward the current model with more horsepower, and higher-level technology including the autonomy function and enhanced data capture. Yet he was able to maintain the footprint of a smaller 25 hp tractor. The new machine can be used in a narrow four-and-one-half-foot wide vineyard row yet provide up to 70 hp performance.
The key was developing an all-new machine but maintaining a familiar form factor. For farmers, the Monarch Tractor is easier to drive than a traditional tractor since all the controls are by wire. "You can shift easily, run the throttle, the brakes and get good speeds," he says. "There's no compromise in the number of speeds so you can run in different operations as such."
This tractor is designed to be used with and without a driver. "Our tractor is electric, automated and smart," Penmetsa says. The tech involved includes a range of safety sensors and cameras that work in "driver optional" mode but also with the driver. That enhances safety for the machine in a variety of conditions.
The tractor is optimized to be used with the three main implements often at work in this class – loaders, sprayers and mowers. "We've really optimized the tractor for these speeds to work, not just for the implement but in a smart way," he notes.
On the automation side, the tractor can be trained to do a specific task, like spray over a field, or perform a repetitive task across a field. This adds to the savings, and payback, for the new machine, which Penmetsa says the price will start at $50,000.
The tractor can use autonomous software to run on its own, or it can be used in Gesture and Shadow modes to have the tractor follow a worker on the job.
Says Jim Hoffman, owner, Hopville Farms, in a release announcing the new tractor: "There are a lot of 'must do' things on the farm that you would like to see done autonomously and not dedicating people to having them do…this tractor can do it more efficiently."
When figuring payback, Penmetsa runs some numbers: "When we look at some of the factors involved, a tractor this size may be used for up to 1,500 hours for spraying. If you can remove the operator from say 80% of that work, based on labor wages in some markets, you can see a significant savings." He notes that the tractor can show a payback in as little as 18 months depending on how it is used.
As the market evolves for electric machines, a major driver may not be the farmer but the buyer. In vineyards, grape buyers are looking more closely at how that product is raised. Using a carbon-free electric vehicle to do a range of chore work on that vineyard, or orchard, can make a difference as future buyers ramp up their climate friendly buying story.
Notes Aly Wente, director of marketing, Wente Vineyards comments in a release for the new machine that the firm is partnering with Monarch Tractor "to further reduce our carbon footprint in 2021 by adding two new Monarch Tractors to our vineyard operations."
The Monarch Tractor is taking a different approach to electrics for the compact tractor market, rolling in more features and that autonomous operation capability. Says Penmetsa: "I say there are a number of people out there building golf cars' whereas Monarch Tractor seems to be building a Tesla."
You can learn more about the tractor and put down a deposit for orders at monarchtractor.com
Willie Vogt has been covering agricultural technology for more than 40 years, with most of that time as editorial director for Farm Progress. He is passionate about helping farmers better understand how technology can help them succeed, when appropriately applied.
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