Monarch E-Tractor: Reshaping Farms with Tech & Sustainability

In an era where sustainability is paramount, the Monarch electric tractor is at the forefront of a revolution that promises to reshape farming practices globally. From its development in California to its demonstration across European trade shows, this tractor has generated considerable interest for its potential to reduce carbon footprints and operational costs. We traveled to Mt. Pisa, Central Otago, New Zealand, to meet with Mike Casey, a pioneer in electric farming, to evaluate the real-world performance of this innovative machine nine months after its integration.

A versatile electric tractor, the solution Mike was looking for

What attracted Mike most to the Monarch was its blend of traditional tractor functionalities—such as a conventional rear hitch with a hydraulic clutch, 3 points hitch, hook, and PTO—and modern enhancements including an ergonomic touch screen at the front and cameras for enhanced operational safety and data collection on orchard conditions. This combination of classic utility and innovative technology made the Monarch an irresistible choice for advancing his agricultural operations.

The Monarch tractor comes with a three-phase charger, capable of fully recharging its battery from empty in approximately five hours. Mike tries to charge it during cheaper off-peak electricity rates. If a farmer needs continuous operation, for additional costs, the tractor can come with a swappable battery or a fast charger that can charge the tractor in just 1-2 hours. Mike told us that each battery lasts between 8 and 10 hours, depending on the terrain and the nature of the work being performed.

During our visit, Mike showcased the ease of operating the tractor and charging it, which is designed to be user-friendly, allowing operators to manage its functions efficiently without extensive training. The Monarch tractor that Mike operates is among the first 66 units produced by the manufacturer. As an early iteration, the tractor experienced several significant issues, such as noisy hydraulics with problems with pipes and valves, and a PTO spacer break that led to overheating problems. Aware of the potential problems associated with prototype technologies, Mike remained patient and collaborative, mentioning that the issues encountered were not due to the tractor’s electric nature, but from mechanical robustness.

Challenges with after-sales service and support

As a key partner in the deployment of the first machine outside California and a showcase for their electric tractor, Monarch actively engaged with Mike, providing extensive on-site support, testing, and training. A crucial repair patch was implemented, including the installation of a hydraulic buffer tank, which significantly alleviated the initial problems. Nine months and 350 hours later, Mike believes the tractor now delivers the quiet, efficient performance he envisioned. However, perfection is a journey, and Mike stays in continuous communication with Monarch via a dedicated Slack channel, contributing to ongoing improvements of the tractor through regular automatic updates.

While Monarch tractors represent a significant advancement in agricultural technology, the experience with their after-sales service has not always met customer expectations. A notable example comes from one of the largest operators of Monarch tractors, a company that faced significant challenges due to initial service shortcomings. After the tractors were delivered, support from Monarch was perceived as inadequate, leading to operational difficulties. This situation necessitated a concerted effort to restore confidence among the operators, who needed to fulfill expected operational targets. Proactive efforts by the company have led to crucial software updates and the recall of several units for part replacements. Additionally, regular operator training sessions have been established to rectify previous misuse caused by insufficient initial guidance. These experiences highlight the importance of robust, ongoing support and training from manufacturers to ensure that innovative technologies achieve their full potential in real-world applications.

Maximizing profitability: The power of energy savings and automation

Mike emphasizes that the profitability of this machine lies in its ability to significantly reduce fossil fuel costs, which are very high in New Zealand. Thanks to its electrical system and its own power generation, Mike estimates that an hour’s use of the tractor costs him just NZ$2, compared with around NZ$55 for a conventional tractor (NZ$20 for running costs and around NZ$35 for the driver’s salary). For every hour he uses the Monarch Tractor, Mike saves around NZ$53 (NZ$18 on energy and potentially NZ$35 on labor once the tractor is autonomous). Over 500 hours of annual use, Mike expects to save up to NZ$26,500 in energy and labor costs, which could pay back the machine in five years.

This year, Mike, his team, and Monarch started work on the tractor’s autonomy, but they didn’t have time to finish preparing the automation before harvest. Given the potential savings, it’s understandable that Mike would like to implement autonomous mode as early as next year. He’s confident that the tasks performed by the Monarch this year will be carried out autonomously next year, including mowing, mulching, and canopy treatment, tasks that he believes require no significant human intervention. His aim is not to reduce staff numbers, but to enable his teams to devote more time to agronomic analysis.

Another crucial point for profitability is tractor energy storage. With batteries

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