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Oregon Farms to Put Electric Tractors to Work in Real World

A pilot project will place three electric tractors throughout rural Oregon as the region explores how electric farm vehicles can adapt to the various operational needs of farms, and save money while doing it.

A concept image of an electric tractor and charging station.
A concept image of an electric tractor and charging station.
Electric tractors are on their way to work in rural Oregon. They are part of a project to expand electrification in the transportation sector, a demonstration to prove out operational and other savings the electric machines can offer.

The electrification of the transportation sector is not going to look the same in rural communities as it has in the urban counterparts, said Bridget Callahan, project manager for Sustainable Northwest, a partner in the project.

“We’re starting to think, how can we ensure there is a meaningful transition in rural communities that really meets their own needs. And we quickly looked at the agricultural sector as a pretty overlooked opportunity,” she added.

The pilot project is a joint effort among Sustainable Northwest, Forth, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and the Wy’East Resource Conservation and Development Area Council, a nonprofit serving farmers in the Pacific Northwest.

The project, based in Crook County, is set to receive two electric tractors this month, and a third next month. The funding will come from a combination of private philanthropic dollars, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Pacific Power. The tractors will be part of a phase of initial testing at the Crook County Fairgrounds and will include demonstration events to introduce the technology to farmers, who can volunteer to use the tractors in practical applications. 

“There’s been an overwhelming response from farmers,” said Callahan. 

Electric tractors — like electric cars and other battery vehicles — have been touted by advocates for significant cost savings in areas like operations and maintenance. And even legacy farm equipment makers like John Deere have invested in electric and autonomous machinery. Meanwhile, a number of cities are taking a hard look at their own heavy equipment, like electric garbage trucks, fire engines, buses and other vehicles. 

However, if much is known about the range, model availability and other details surrounding electric cars, much less is known about electric tractors. The Oregon project will include a number of sensors on the tractors to monitor how they are used and to better understand the operational capabilities of the vehicles. 

“This is going to give us a lot more information … We’re really keen on understanding, what are the fuel savings, what are the maintenance savings, what are the emission reductions?” said Callahan. 

“We want to hear their experience. But we also want some of those nitty-gritty metrics that we’ll be collecting. And then, once we compile all that data, we’ll then launch a media campaign to get the word out, build a case study or two, and really amplify the results,” she added. 

Much of the testing work will be done by Wy’East RC&D, which will put the tractors through a number of farm tasks. Two of the e-tractors on their way to Oregon are relatively small. They will range in power from 25 hp to 40 hp. A larger machine with 75 hp is projected to come later. 

“We are waiting for the first tractor to be delivered to me in Dufur, Ore., likely within the next 30 days we will have the first tractor on the ground … the delivery of the tractors have been delayed because of COVID,” Robert Wallace, executive director of Wy’East told Government Technology last month. 

“Each tractor will be rotated to farms around the region,” Wallace added. “The participant will use the electric tractor in place of their existing diesel tractor. Each electric tractor will have sensors that will push live data to the cloud. This data will be evaluated to determine the performance.” 

The region benefits from having relatively inexpensive and clean electric power, largely due to the availability of hydro-electric power, said Wallace. 

“This is a great opportunity for our local farmers to test these new tractors’ economic viability,” said Crook County judge, Seth Crawford, in a statement. “We are also working with the schools, 4H and FFA [Future Farmers of America] to give our students the opportunity to learn about this new tech.”

Editor's note: A change was made to correctly identify the funding sources for the pilot project.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.

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