We’ve seen electric tractors before, but the Monarch Tractor features autonomous operation and data-gathering features, and the company’s marketing material promises farmers substantial annual cost savings.
Considering the expansive set of features, we were (pleasantly) surprised to see that the company isn’t touting its product as “the Tesla of tractors”—despite (or because of) the fact that co-founder and President Mark Schwager is a former Tesla exec.
The electric Monarch Tractor features a 55 kW (70 hp) peak-rated motor, and claims to deliver twice the torque of a comparable diesel tractor. It can be driven by a human or operate autonomously, on its own or as part of a fleet. Operators can drive the tractor remotely using a smartphone, or program tasks ahead of time. A power-export feature allows the Monarch to be used as a generator in the field. It can also be configured as an ATV.
“It is a tractor. It is not a farm robot,” Schwager told Forbes. “Three-point hitch, software control of the hydraulics. We needed to make sure there were zero compromises for the farmer.”
The battery cells use NMC811 chemistry, which Schwager calls the “most energy-dense chemistry you can buy.” Range depends on the application—the tractor can run for up to 10 hours of light duties such as mowing and spraying, or 5 hours for more energy-intensive tasks such as plowing or disking. Batteries can be swapped in the field.
The e-tractor’s autonomous driving capability relies on 360-degree cameras and other sensors. “No Lidar, no radar,” Schwager explains to Forbes. “One, because it’s very expensive, and two, some of the practices that we want farmers to employ are more sustainable, like cover cropping—if you’re going down a row of vines, a cover crop is something that grows in the middle of that so you can have four feet of grass in the middle of the row shaking in the wind, and that’s going to foul up Lidar pretty heavily.”
Monarch says its tractor can collect and analyze over 240 GB of crop data per day. Using machine learning, it analyzes this data to continuously improve accuracy.
The Monarch Tractor starts at $50,000. Schwager says that’s about 1.5 times the price of a legacy diesel-powered John Deere, but that savings on fuel and labor costs can deliver a return on investment in less than two years.
The company has raised three rounds of funding. Strategic partners include agricultural equipment OEM Case New Holland.
Pilot tractors are now being built, and serial production is to begin next year at the company’s Livermore, California facility.