Is the Future of Farming Electric? Meet Solectrac

Commercial fleets are going electric faster than you can say EV, and agriculture appears to be following suit. Meet Solectrac, an electric tractor maker with its eye on the future.
Written by Alex Reale
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Jul 27, 2022
You just parked your
Prius
at your local bakery, where ingredients were sourced only from nearby farms. The wheat in your toast traveled to the bakery the quickest possible route and the bakery owners are obsessive about composting. 
Your breakfast is a triumph in sustainability. But, tragedy strikes—the wheat was tilled with a diesel-powered tractor, with all the
attendant emissions
. What’s a sustainable toast-eater to do? 
Meet Solectrac, an
electric tractor maker
that’s looking to change the face of farming.

The diesel problem

Tractors are a vital farming tool. Originally built to replace horses and oxen for heavy pulling tasks in the fields, these vehicles are known for their slow, steady reliability. Tractors are typically powered by gasoline or diesel engines, with diesel often preferred for its ability to generate high power at low speeds, says
Explain That Stuff
A diesel-powered tractor will happily knock out any farming task you set to it, but this relentlessness comes at a cost: what emerges from the exhaust pipe. Diesel is regulated in the U.S. to minimize the effects of its emissions, which include soot, nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide, says the
EPA
.
In aggregate, these diesel byproducts are contributors to smog, acid rain, and other undesirable environmental outcomes.
But we all have to eat, and tractors are crucial. So what is to be done? 

Solectrac’s new, electric tractor

Here’s where Solectrac, a California-based electric tractor maker, comes in.
Founded in 2012 and acquired by Ideanomics in 2021, the firm currently offers two electric tractors.The smaller model, the e25 Compact Electric Tractor, is advertised by
Solectrac
as “great for hobby farms, golf courses, sport fields, equestrian centers and municipalities.” 
A cute one-seater, it also sports four-wheel drive and a capable rear three-point hitch. Most importantly, it will run from between three and six hours on a full battery charge, which can be obtained in under eight hours. And this battery could last up to 10 years. That’s a lot of harvests.
Solectrac’s other model, the e70N Narrow Electric Tractor, seats the driver higher up and promises to make itself useful in vineyards and orchards. It can lift 2,000 pounds and will run from between three and eight hours, depending on what you’re asking it to do. 
Battery charging and life expectancy are similar to its compatriot, clocking in eight to 10 hours and 10 years, respectively. Move over, Farmville. There’s a new e-farming sheriff in town.

Can Solectrac go the distance?

Aiming for agricultural sustainability is all well and good, but will these actually provide any advantage to farmers, or the environment? 
Solectrac founder Steve Heckeroth thinks so. In the ‘90s, Heckeroth realized that the battery weight problem that plagued electric cars could be turned into a positive for tractors: throwing a heavy battery on a load-bearing vehicle actually helped with traction. 
This pushed him to realize his electric tractor vision, one in which farmers see reduced costs in maintenance and fuel, no emissions, a major reduction in noise, and the opportunity to incorporate even more sustainability by charging tractor batteries with solar power. 
Of course, these advantages will have to be tempered by the huge energy needs of a working farm, says
Agriculture.com
, so any delays or issues with this relatively new technology will have huge consequences in productivity. 
But Solectrac seems to be taking these issues in stride. The company has millions of dollars in pre-orders already lined up, so there are at least a few farmers who see the potential in an electric tractor. We’ll see how the toast tastes.
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