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What Will the Tractors of the Future Look Like?

Tue February 15, 2022 - National Edition
Low Carbon Agriculture

Tractors of the future will be a mix of different fuel types and innovative technology with two key drivers: reducing emissions and precision farming.

The Low Carbon Agriculture Show will give European farmers and dealers a view of the future with a steep rise in autonomous tractors and robots on farms, and more variation in machinery designed for specific purposes.

The machines will be fueled by a mix of renewable electricity (batteries), hydrogen and biomethane, according to Mike Woollacott of Greenwatt Technology. He is one of the speakers at the Low Carbon Agriculture Show taking place at the National Agricultural and Exhibition Centre (NAEC) Stoneleigh, Kenilworth, United Kingdom, March 8 and 9.

In addition to the Farm Technology Expo, the Low Carbon show includes the Low Emission Vehicles Expo, the Energy Now Expo and the Environmental Business Expo.

"Tractors below 50 horsepower can be battery-powered, and I see these being multi-tooled, with bolt on and off systems and predict there will be a rise of smaller machines and robots specifically developed for precision techniques," predicted Woollacott.

"For larger vehicles, if we can't replace a high-power fuel like diesel with a battery, we need something that can replace it. Hydrogen has the power. However, there are some caveats; hydrogen has supply limitations, also hydrogen fuel cell powered systems may not be ideally suited to operate well under vibration and dusty field conditions."

Ultimately, tractors are going to be powered differently, he said.

Advances in the cost and efficiency of batteries and alternative fuels in the automotive industry should spill over into agricultural machinery, according to Neil Wallis at Zemo Partnership, the not-for-profit organization helping to accelerate transport to zero emissions.

"Enabling sustainable farm production — using less energy and inputs — is expected to be a core tenet of future product design. Farmers will be encouraged to move away from heavier equipment to help reduce soil compaction, allowing fields to absorb and sequester more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere," said Wallis.

In this mix, equipment dealers and farmers could house charging infrastructure. In the United States, there are already calls for the rural electric system to get out in front of this trend. By comparison, Lisa Howkins at NFU Energy noted, "If we are to meet demand and hit decarbonization targets, the UK needs to be installing 40 to 50 new chargers every day for the next 10 years."

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This story also appears on Agricultural Equipment Guide.

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