In the December 2010 issue of Good Fruit Grower, the Pacific Northwest’s preeminent orchard and vineyard magazine, North Central Washington is singled out as “a pioneer for the adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles because of its cheap hydropower”—something which many of this area’s inhabitants might be surprised to learn. After reviewing some of the history of the Advanced Vehicle Innovations (AVI) consortium and the PluginCenter, Good Fruit Grower points out that agriculture in our region is primed to reap the benefits of vehicle and equipment electrification.

“We’re at the very early stages of application of this technology to agriculture,” said Ron Johnston-Rodriguez, coordinator for the AVI consortium and economic development director for the Port of Chelan County, in the article. “We think it’s going to be a growing part of the landscape. All this started with passenger cars, but it’s scaling up, so we’re looking at larger vehicles and the cost is anticipated to come down significantly, just like other technology.”

Electrification of farm implements and vehicles can provide many of the benefits that everybody will see from using electric vehicles in North Central Washington—and some other side benefits that are a bit more surprising. These include:

  • Much lower operating costs—as much as 10-15 times lower.
  • Fewer maintenance worries—electric motors have two moving parts and don’t require a transmission.
  • Nearly silent—easily hear your radio or your phone while out driving on your electric ATV, talk with farm workers without turning off your vehicle, drive up to your animals without scaring them.
  • Very high torque at low RPMs—starting up and pulling loads on an incline was never easier.
  • Switch on and off at the touch of a button—conserve “fuel” costs without even thinking about it.

Also in the December issue, the magazine looks at the success of Steve Heckeroth, a pioneer in the field of electric tractors, as well as Washington State University Extension’s use of an all-electric ATV for orchard field work.

Heckeroth owns a California-based company—MendoMotive—that builds electric tractors modeled on the old Allis-Chalmers G. According to Heckeroth, that size tractor is perfect for the small to moderate sized farm operations he’s targeting. He hopes the “Model G,” as he calls it, will be ready to purchase for the 2011 growing season and has already lined up a company to provide financing.

As the magazine points out, the electric farm implement concept is not new, but it is experiencing a resurgence in popularity as fuel prices rise and the benefits of electrification become known. Back in the 1960′s and 1970′s, GE actually built the Elek-Trak electric tractor, but as Johnston-Rodriguez says in the article, hunting down old Elec-Trak tractors to restore them has “practically become a cultlike activity.”

In the past Good Fruit Grower has highlighted other local agricultural electrification successes, including Sunshine Farm’s conversion of an old Allis-Chalmers G tractor to all-electric (with the help of Heckeroth and local EV advocate Randy Brooks).

If you are an agricultural operation and are considering adding electrified implements and vehicles to your fleet, feel free to contact the Plugin Center for more information.