Farming Technology Trends: The Hybrid Tractors Are Coming
Agriculture has been around for thousands of years and has undergone numerous changes in that time. For much of this history, farming was limited to hand tools, human labor and draft animals, which ate more than 20 percent of the crops they helped to cultivate! It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that farming technology really started to become more efficient. The farm tractor gradually replacing millions of farm hands and tens of millions of draft animals.
Since the 1890s, farming technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, and an 1890s farmer would be hard-pressed to recognize the modern tractor. With an enclosed cab, climate control, computerized farm implements, GPS tracking and navigation, autonomous drive and better emissions controls, the modern farm tractor has more in common with the modern automobile than it does with a farm tractor from even 20 years ago.
Twenty years ago is actually an interesting date regarding both farm tractors and automobiles, 1996 marking milestones in emissions controls for both. Since then, farming technology has indeed been advancing, especially with the adoption of emissions controls, such as diesel exhaust gas recirculation, reducing nitrous oxide emissions; exhaust system filtering, burning off particulate matter; and selective catalytic reduction technology, using diesel exhaust fluid or diesel fuel to reduce harmful emissions. Additionally, advances in alternative fuels have been slowly finding their way into farm tractors, including biofuels like biodiesel and ethanol, and other fuels such as methane and natural gas.
Bigger Change Is Coming
With all this progress, one recent trend in farming technology seems to be lagging behind, not so much in availability, which has been around for over a hundred years, but of farmers’ willingness to adopt it. Farmers know the delicate balance they strike between farm tractor utility, running costs and their bottom line, so changing fuel hasn’t been such a big leap.
But changing a powertrain seems to be more than some are able to visualize, especially considering the costs of that new technology, such as diesel hybrid electric or even hydrogen fuel cell powertrains.
More Than Just Fuel Economy
Still, considering that fuel costs remain high and emissions regulations are getting tighter, it seems certain that diesel hybrid electric tractors will prove to be too attractive to pass up. Initial costs aside, even if one goes for a retrofit, diesel hybrid electric tractors come with a number of benefits:
- Fuel economy. Depending on application, some hybrid tractor powertrains return up to 50 percent in fuel economy savings.
- Productivity. Some estimate better than 10 percent productivity increases over standard diesel tractors. Because they can be finely tuned, electric motors have even been shown to reduce crop damage.
- Longevity. Electric motors typically have a service life of 30,000 to 50,000 hours and require almost no maintenance. They also reduce stress on the machinery itself, reducing repair costs.
- Simplicity. Because they produce all their torque at zero RPM, electric motors eliminate moving parts and wear items, such as the clutch, transmission even the drivetrains on PTO-driven equipment. This also reduces maintenance and repair costs.
The modern farm tractor makes so many of the meals served in our country possible. So, although increasing productivity and reducing emissions will require the adoption of new methods, modern farming technology is more than ready to tackle the challenge.
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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons