Sustainable, Intelligent & Connected: Electric Tractors for Precision Agriculture

Posted May 29, 2024 | Sustainability |
Sustainable, Intelligent & Connected: Electric Tractors for Precision Agriculture

Electric tractors can play a significant role in sustainable agriculture efforts. In addition to pollution-reducing electric vehicle (EV) technology, commercial offerings now make extensive use of AI, robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to enable autonomous operations and support precision agriculture.

Environmental & Economic Benefits

Electric tractors offer a number of benefits, both environmental and economic. Their biggest benefit is that they generate no exhaust, offering a crucial advantage over conventional diesel-powered tractors. This makes them very attractive for agricultural greenhouse gas emission (GHG)-reduction efforts. Electric, zero-emission tractors are also appealing for high-value crop-growing operations, like grapes (for wine), due to their susceptibility to damage from diesel exhaust.

Electric tractors are significantly quieter than diesel tractors, helping to reduce noise pollution. This facilitates a safer, more efficient, and pleasant environment for farm workers and livestock. Workers are not exposed to continual loud engine noise, which could damage their hearing. This also allows them to communicate without having to shout or resort to hand signals. Quieter tractors also reduce the risk that farm animals will get spooked or distressed. This is important to both the health of the animals and for public relations/marketing efforts because animal welfare is increasingly becoming a differentiating factor among consumers seeking to cater to environmentally friendly brands.

Electric tractors offer significant cost savings when it comes to fuel and maintenance. Electricity is cheaper than diesel (and gasoline) in general. Diesel fuel prices are subject to frequent, volatile market forces that can negatively impact operating costs. In contrast, electricity rates tend to be more stable. Moreover, when paired with other green energy-generating methods — like windmill power and methane captured from manure, landfills, and other farming operations — the operating costs of electric tractors can be further offset.

Electric engines have fewer moving parts than diesel and gasoline-powered internal combustion engines (ICE), which helps reduce tractor upkeep and repair costs. Their connected nature also facilitates real-time monitoring and predictive maintenance.

Increased Efficiency via AI & Automation

Electric tractors have become digital platforms in their own right via the integration of AI, robotics, IoT, and other technologies. The incorporation of these advanced technologies significantly enhances the efficiency of electric tractors for precision agricultural operations.

AI, robotics, and automation enable electric tractors to operate autonomously (even at night). This can help mitigate farm labor shortages. Like electric cars, electric tractors employ onboard cameras that utilize computer vision systems, sometimes coupled with GPS and satellite navigation, to facilitate autonomous operation.

GPS and satellite navigation also enable farming with greater precision and more accurate resource utilization. In addition, machine learning (ML) algorithms (residing onboard or accessed via connected cloud analytics platforms) can analyze data acquired from various sources — including weather forecasts, soil conditions (from ground-based sensors), and crop health (via drone, satellite, and ground-based monitoring) — to provide farmers with precise analytics to optimize tilling, planting, irrigation, harvesting, and other farming operations.

Because electric tractors are connected, data from onboard sensors can be used to monitor key components, such as drive train, transmission, and battery health to help reduce downtime through predictive maintenance.

Challenges to Electric Tractor Adoption

Electric tractor adoption faces several challenges that must be addressed to facilitate their widespread use in agriculture. The biggest is their initial up-front cost, which is significantly higher than those of diesel tractors. To get around this problem, governments are offering rebates, loans, tax deductions, and other monetary incentives to help spur electric tractor adoption.

Due to battery limitations, electric tractors may not meet the high power-to-weight ratios necessary for farm operations requiring heavy equipment. In addition, actual run time can vary depending on environmental conditions, type of operations, and farming implements (e.g., disc harrow, weeder, mower) employed. Consequently, high-intensity farming activities (e.g., plowing, transportation, harvesting) may require more powerful/extra batteries for electric tractors. However, for many farming activities, electric-powered tractors are quite capable. These issues are expected to lessen in importance in the not-too-distant future because battery, electric motor, and EV technologies are evolving rapidly.

Charging infrastructure, or a lack of (especially in rural areas), is another consideration. However, electric tractor providers are increasingly offering products whose batteries can be charged at either charging stations or using a farm’s existing electrical supply.

Low market demand for electric tractors has the potential to deter more manufacturers from entering the market, thus keeping prices high and limiting adoption. But government-led GHG-reduction regulatory efforts intended to hasten the move to more sustainable agriculture along with EV incentive programs can help spur market growth. Additionally, as EV technology is expected to evolve rapidly, the cost difference between electric and ICE-powered tractors should drop.

Electric Tractor Adoption Use Case

Monarch Tractor offers a good example of the kind of cutting-edge capabilities available with electric tractors on the market. The company’s MK-V electric tractor can be driven by a human operator or programmed to operate autonomously — even to carry out farming tasks like discing a field or spraying fertilizers. It can also move along accompanying farmhands as they work in the fields, carrying supplies or harvesting crops.

Farmers can program and control the MK-V tractor using the company’s WingspanAI mobile app. This includes planning, executing, and monitoring operations via live video feeds and real-time alerts. The app also supports remote fleet management, including tractor performance reports, maintenance, and diagnostics. The MK-V also has collision-avoidance features designed to protect the vehicle, driver, surrounding workers, livestock, crops, and other equipment from accidental collisions.

Last year, the city of Berkeley, California, USA, started adopting electric tractors as part of its plan to move to zero-emission off-road vehicles and equipment by 2035 (to comply with the State of California Executive Order N-79-20). In December, Berkeley purchased a Monarch MK-V; it uses it for grounds maintenance at various parks and other areas in the city. The aim is to improve local air quality, reduce noise pollution, and achieve lower operating and maintenance costs than was possible with conventional tractors.

In acquiring the electric tractor, the city took advantage of California’s Clean Off-Road Equipment program (CORE), a state EV financial incentive effort intended to accelerate EV adoption. CORE reportedly allowed Berkeley to purchase its electric tractor for a minimum of 65% off the retail price, making it comparable in cost to similar-sized diesel tractors.


Electric tractors can play a significant role in sustainable agriculture efforts. In addition, the incorporation of AI, robotics, and IoT technologies is making electric tractors more efficient, reducing labor shortages and costs, and helping to increase productivity while minimizing environmental impact. Electric tractor adoption, however, is constrained by issues like high initial cost, battery life and charging limitations, and limited existing market. That said, government and industry are working to address these challenges to promote the greater adoption of electric tractors into the agricultural sector, which, eventually, will lead to more sustainable and efficient farming practices.

Finally, I’d like to get your opinion on the use of electric tractors and their ability to facilitate precision agriculture and EVs in general. As always, your comments will be held in strict confidence. You can email me at or call +1 510 356 7299 with your comments.

About The Author
Curt Hall
Curt Hall is a Cutter Expert and a member of Arthur D. Little’s AMP open consulting network. He has extensive experience as an IT analyst covering technology and application development trends, markets, software, and services. Mr. Hall's expertise includes artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), intelligent process automation (IPA), natural language processing (NLP) and conversational computing, blockchain for business, and customer… Read More