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Farming sector looks to future with electric power

Electric machinery could help change agriculture carbon footprint

By Alexandra Carpenter, University of Guelph Agricultural Communications Student, for

The construction and farming world is looking to change its carbon footprint by implementing more electric machinery.

Some of the biggest names in equipment manufacturing are looking to release full-sized electrical equipment as early as 2018. They are confident electric machinery will be the way of the future and believe it will be a $30-billion industry by 2025.

Joe Kolkman, a hog and crop producer from West Perth County, thinks electric is nothing to be afraid of. "I’m not against electric. It’s just technology," he says.

Currently, the agricultural and heavy equipment manufacturer John Deere has a fully electric side-by-side, the Gator TE, and a partially electric front-end loader, the 644K Loader. The heavy equipment manufacturer Hitachi currently sells full sized excavators, the EX5600-6 and the EX2600-6, which run off cable electricity. Hitachi is also working on stand-alone hydraulic excavators and material salvaging equipment. The machinery is expected to be used indoors.

But despite his endorsement, Kolkman has some reservations about electric-powered machinery.

For example, he worries about the weight of the equipment on the fields leading to compaction.

“If you’re…out using it on the land, the weight would be an issue if you are carrying around batteries,” he says. Currently, the only fully electric machinery has been used in mines.

Kolkman is also concerned about how long the charge would last, as many custom operators spend a lot of time away from the home farm and would far away from an electricity source. With conventional technology, operators are able to bring fuel to the field for a quick refill.

The likely plan for electric equipment is for use in remote locations where the cost of shipping fuel is very expensive. Instead, large batteries can be swapped out quickly and charged quickly, according to reports. These locations would be able to harness the power of the sun and/or wind to produce their own electricity.

Traditionally, heavy equipment has driven new development in electric equipment, which is typically adopted for agricultural equipment shortly after. That’s a bit of a problem – currently, the mining industry is in a down time and the need for new electric equipment is not in high demand, the next mining cycle is not planned to begin until 2018.

This means the farming world is not likely to see an influx of electric equipment hit the market immediately – but inevitably, it will.

Alexandra “Ali” Carpenter is a proud Kemptville College grad and is currently an animal science major at the University of Guelph. Coming from a cow-cattle operation in eastern Ontario then moving to the city has shown Alexandra both sides of the story.  She has always enjoyed speaking out about agriculture.  She has helped to demystify farming for the public at the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum for many years. You can follow her on Twitter or on the Wordpress blog Aggie Ali.This article is part of Alexandra Carpenter’s course work for the University of Guelph agricultural communications course, instructed by Prof. Owen Roberts.



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