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All-Electric Tractor Unveiled

By Dan Miller
 
Monarch Tractor of Livermore, California, on Tuesday introduced what the technology manufacturer calls the world’s first fully electric, driver-optional, smart tractor integrated onto a single platform.
 
“What makes Monarch Tractor unique is that you are answering the three big challenges farmers have,” said Praveen Penmetsa, co-founder and CEO, Monarch Tractor. “Farmers have labor shortages around the globe. Farmers are under tremendous pressure from their buyers to reduce emissions and provide more sustainability data (to their buyers). Farmers are also working with razor-thin margins.”
 
This tractor addresses those issues by combining electrification, automation, machine learning and data analysis to improve the manager’s real-time vision of the farming operation by collecting both visual and digitized data from the field. Monarch began deploying electric tractors in 2017 and 2018 in California and India. As a company, Monarch Tractor was founded two years ago.
 
Penmetsa explained that Monarch is focusing on compact tractors because it is the most common platform in the world. It is a fast-growing segment in the United States, where compact units are typically used more than 100 days per year. “For these reasons, if we focus on the compact tractor, we can make the biggest difference in farm economics. We can save (farmers) not just on diesel cost but also labor costs,” Penmetsa said.
 
The Monarch tractor acts essentially as a hub in the field for data collection, observation and even as a local source of remote electrical power. It can be a sprayer, a cultivator, even a drone for recharging other units, while uploading information collected from field operations. The Monarch can create alerts, provide actionable information, as well as give managers close insight into what is going on in a given field, Penmetsa said.
 
For example, the Monarch incorporates a micro weather station that, among climatic conditions, monitors wind speed. The platform will cease spraying operations if local wind conditions exceed either preplanned or regulatory parameters. When alerted to the stoppage by the Monarch, the remote manager can order it to continue or wait for conditions to change.
 
“So, this is not a drone flying over collecting data,” said Penmetsa, who has previous experience in automation, robotics and AI technologies in applications involving planting, cultivating and harvesting. “(The Monarch tractor operates) on settings for your farm, in real time, adjusting for your operation and still leaving you in control.”
 
The Monarch looks like a compact tractor, narrower than a compact, but slightly longer. Its electric drivetrain can provide 40 horsepower (30 kilowatts) of continuous power and short-duration peak power up to 70 hp (55 KW). The PTO and three-point hitch are comparable to a diesel tractor. It’s hydraulic capacity equals or exceeds conventionally powered units of the same size. Because it is electric, the Monarch has two times as much torque as comparable units.
 
“We can control hydraulics from the cloud. We can control the PTO and hitch with software. This is the only tractor controlled by wire in the world. But it is in a platform everyone can buy,” said Penmetsa. “We don’t want farmers to make compromises compared to their existing compact tractors.” The initial target markets for Monarch tractors are vineyards, fruit and nut orchards and vegetable operations.
 
The Monarch is powered by a large battery with 10 hours or more of operating time. Under high workloads, the battery is designed to give owners four to five hours of operation. The battery system lasts 10 years, Monarch says. A battery recharge requires up to five hours. However, Monarch sells as an option a swappable battery pack. The swap can be completed by one person in 10 minutes. The location of the battery, over the front axle, is a design feature to give the tractor improved stability. More weight on the axle means less ballast is needed on the front.
 
“As a fourth-generation farmer, I’ve seen firsthand the hazards that farming presents not just to workers, but to the environment as well,” Carlo Mondavi, chief farming officer, Monarch Tractor, said in a statement released Tuesday morning. “Monarch Tractor is moving farming toward a safer and sustainable future by eliminating harmful emissions, reducing the need for herbicides and keeping workers out of harm’s way with its driver-optional capabilities.”
 
The Monarch tractor is designed to replicate the best instincts and knowledge of an operation’s best drivers. “Our pitch to farmers is that you take a most experienced tractor driver, someone who has been around for a long time, let’s elevate him to fleet manager,” Penmetsa said. “He can train the tractor. You get the advantages from your best tractor driver settings across your whole field. And (that driver) is managing an entire fleet of these tractors. You can manage the farm better in less time because you can keep track of all the tractors at one time and what operations they are doing.”
 
Wente Vineyards is adding two new Monarch tractors to its operations in 2021. “Adopting sustainable farming practices is core to our family and company values,” Aly Wente, director of marketing, said in a release from Monarch Tractors. “We look forward to learning how Monarch can continue to help us create a more sustainable future, while also providing an efficient and safe environment for our teams.”
 
Monarch owners own the sensor and visual data collected from their units. However, Penmetsa wants to incentivize owners to share data. “We will incentivize them by putting them in touch with our partners, whether it is an ag input company, research company or their buyers to say, if you are willing to share your data, they may be able to provide recommendations for the operation,” Penmetsa said.
 
Here are key features of the Monarch tractor:
 
— The Monarch tractor is 100% electric and has zero tailpipe emissions.
 
— It serves as a kind of three-in-one tool, operating not only as a tractor, but with extra storage, it acts as an ATV, and it has the capabilities to be a powerful generator in the field.
 
— The tractor can perform preprogrammed tasks without a driver, or an operator can use Monarch’s interactive automation features, including Gesture and Shadow modes, to have the tractor follow a worker on the job.
 
— The Monarch tractor features roll- and collision-prevention capabilities, vision-based PTO safety and 360-degree cameras to keep operations running smoothly and employees safe, day or night.
 
— The Monarch tractor collects and analyzes over 240 gigabytes of crop data every day it operates. It can work with farmers’ current implements as well as the next generation of smart implements. Sensors and imaging are processed to provide critical data points that can be used for real-time implement adjustments, as well as long-term yield estimates, current growth stages and other plant/crop health metrics.
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