The future of tractors is coming to Ohio. California-based Monarch Tractors announced in August that its MK-V all-electric tractor would be produced, in Lordstown, Ohio, at the former General Motors plant now owned by Foxconn.
While the MK-V won’t work for all farming operations, it could be a game changer as electrification and autonomous equipment technology continue to shape the landscape of farming, said Ohio State University’s Scott Shearer, professor and chair in the department of the department of food, agricultural and biological engineering.
“I see a lot of potential with this tractor in several types of farming operations,” he said. “I don’t know that we’ll see it in the Midwest in row crop agriculture in corn and soybean production, but it’s going to find its home.”
The MK-V is advertised as having 40 horsepower continuous power with 70 horsepower peak power. The run time on one battery is between eight to 10 hours. With a swappable battery, near-continuous operations are possible as charging time for batteries is between five and six hours. The tractor can also serve as a generator in the field.
To compare, in America’s corn belt, most farms operating on several thousand acres use tractors in the 400 horsepower range, Shearer said. For tillage, you may need something that goes up to 600 horsepower.
Shearer is waiting for farmers to get their hands on these tractors and test them in the field before making any judgements, but he said the run time and continuous horsepower capabilities could work well for specialty crop farms.
“For some fruit and veg operators, for orchards making multiple trips through an orchard, and they don’t have the acreages where this will be in production mode 24 hours a day, it makes sense,” Shearer said.
That’s what Mark Schwager said they’re focused on — food, not feed. Schwager, president and co-founder of Monarch Tractors, said their tractors could also work well for dairies, rural lifestyle folks and grounds management.
“It’s not a bespoke solution for just one operation,” he said. “It does everything a tractor does and that makes it a really powerful tool.”
Add in that the Monarch MK-V can be fully-autonomous, the tractor could help farms with labor issues. There’s a seat on the tractor for a human operator, but it can be “trained” to run certain routes or do certain tasks on its own.
Schwager said it will take about half a day to learn how to program an MK-V tractor to run autonomously.
“You don’t need a computer science degree to do it,” he said. “You simply need to record what you do for a particular route or operation and the tractor will remember exactly how you drove it and exactly how to use the implements.”
Because the tractor is fully connected via cellular network and has numerous sensors, diagnosing issues should be fairly easy. Schwager said they believe in the right to repair.
“If it’s possible for you to order something off of Amazon and have it show up later that day, we can do that same thing with parts,” Schwager said.
At the same time, he said they want to make sure the dealer channel is available to help with more advanced issues, like with the high-voltage battery that powers the tractor. In that case, they’ll hopefully have swappable battery units to get tractors going again while their own techs can handle any battery issues.
“We would want to open those batteries ourselves just due to the danger,” he said.
Monarch is one of two manufacturers in the U.S. making fully-electric tractors. The MK-V has a base price of $50,000.
Soletrac, also based in California, offers a 25-horsepower option that’s available for purchase now and recently added a 70-horsepower option that will be available next year. The Soletrac e70N has a runtime of 3-8 hours and costs $74,999 base price. Fendt and Kubota have released electric prototype tractors abroad.
The electric part is interesting, but Shearer sees more potential in the autonomous capabilities, particularly as labor issues continue to plague farmers.
The two things are inseparable, Schwager said. The autonomous features are underpinned by electrification. Even on a diesel tractor, any autonomous features are run by electronics, he said.
Both parts could bring economic benefits to farmers, he said, by freeing up their farming practices that were before constrained by human labor and lowering inputs for fuel.
Monarch Tractors signed a contract manufacturing agreement with Taiwanese electronic manufacturer Foxconn. The first 50 MK-V tractors are being produced in California this year. Next year production in Ohio will begin. Farmers will be able to buy the MK-V directly from Monarch or through Case-New Holland’s distribution network.
The tractor will be produced at the 6.2 million square-foot assembly plant that was once owned by General Motors Co. The American auto giant shut down the plant in 2019 after operating for more than 50 years.
Lordstown Motors bought the facility to develop and build its all-electric pickup, the Endurance, but ran out of cash before getting the vehicle to market. Foxconn, a Taiwanese electronic manufacturing company, bought the plant from Lordstown Motors in May for $230 million with plans to manufacture EVs by contract.
Schwager said they shopped around with more than 20 companies to find the right fit to produce the MK-V. Foxconn and Lordstown came out on top with their purchasing power as the largest electronic manufacturer in the world, the team and facility in Lordstown with their focus on electric vehicle production and the plant’s location in the Rust Belt and epicenter of American automobile manufacturing.
(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be reached at 724-201-1544 or email@example.com)
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