At the 2022 Sunbelt Ag Expo, we had the opportunity to interview Mani Iyer, CEO of Solectrac, to learn all about the company's history and their cutting-edge electric tractors. This ain't your granddaddy's John Deere—this may be the future of sustainable agriculture.
Meet the Solectrac CEO
Solectrac CEO Mani Iyer has been in the tractor industry for many years—so many that he's earned the nickname of "tractor guy." When he joined Solectrac, he made the switch from the diesel world to the electric world.
Founded by Steve Heckeroth in 2012, Solectrac was the first North American tractor company to bring a 25 horsepower (hp) tractor to the market. According to the Solectrac website, "In 2020, Solectrac partnered with Ideanomics, a global group with the mission to accelerate the adoption of commercial electric vehicles by bringing together vehicles, charging, and energy solutions with design, implementation, and financial services." Ideanomics acquired Solectrac the following year.
With a distribution point in Denton, North Carolina to serve Solectrac's east coast customers and a nearly 50,000-square-foot facility in Windsor, California, they've pretty much got the entire country covered. While the company is based in northern California, it has a strong dealer network with 28 dealers and 60 locations, and it continues to grow every day.
The Ideal Tractor for Just About Anyone
With a 25 hp tractor on the market, we asked Mani, "Who's the target market for this size tractor?" He told us that it's the perfect tractor for any and all kinds of hobby farmers. Plus, equestrian centers, golf courses, municipalities, universities or anyone else who needs moving loader and backhoe applications will find this electric tractor useful!
Power Take-Off (PTO)
Mani explained the beauty of electric tractors. Ready for it? You get instant torque at zero RPM! That means it doesn't idle. When you step on the pedal, it starts working.
With diesel engines, you lose 65–70% efficiency in the engine itself. You lose a ton of power going into the PTO, and you have to ramp up the diesel engine to 2,100 RPM to get the PTO power, whereas here with an electric model, you get full power and full torque at zero RPM. And you don't need to step on the gas to get that torque. You can get it while you run the tractor at low speed.
Solectrac's electric tractors can be ordered with frontend loaders that get plenty of power—like "1,100+ pound lifting capacity" kind of power on the bucket.
As far as the backhoe goes, the electric tractor has a 6.5 feet digging depth on the backhoe.
How does this compare to a diesel tractor? Well, the electric tractor has a similar loader, similar backhoe and the same 3-point hitch implements. But with an electric tractor, you get no emission, no noise and no vibration. It's a true win-win. And we can attest to the quietness of the Solectrac electric tractor—we couldn't hear it as we approached it at the Sunbelt Ag Expo.
Future Tractor Models for the Poultry Industry
Solectrac has plans in the works for 50 and 75 horsepower tractors that will be great for poultry farms. Mani told us that they hope to release them within the next year, and they should have them on display at next year's Sunbelt Ag Expo.
Mani said they'll start with 75 narrow electric tractor production. Ideal for vineyards and orchards, the 75 hp tractor will also be very compatible with poultry farming practices. It'll have just the right size, height and turning radius that poultry farmers need. With poultry attachments around 70–80 PTO, this new model will be a suitable match. After the 75 hp tractor, Solectrac plans to come down one size to a 50 hp model.
You all know (probably too well!) how dust and litter can get sucked into the tractor engine and cause all kinds of problems without proper maintenance. And maintenance takes time and causes delays. We all want a clean and functioning tractor. Since electric tractors have a battery compartment instead of a diesel engine, you never have to worry about engine maintenance.
If you love your diesel tractor for many reasons, maintenance costs probably isn't one of them. With an electric tractor, you have less maintenance, less time waiting for your tractor to be fixed, and best of all, more money in your pocket in the long run.
When it comes to tractor maintenance, it's always the engine that needs to be fixed. It's always something related to the purity of the diesel or the oil. But with an electric tractor, there's no diesel to worry about. It's a simple electric machine that has no maintenance when it comes to the electric motor. Even though an electric tractor might cost 25–30% more than a comparable diesel tractor up front, you can get that money back in two to three years from the maintenance cost savings.
To estimate your cost savings, Solectrac created an app called SolecSave. On the app, you can enter your current costs from your diesel tractor and see how much you could save with an electric tractor.
Through the Clean Off-Road Equipment (CORE) Program, California gives an incentive close to 80% to switch to electric. Mani recently heard about a program in Colorado where you get a 45% incentive to trade in a diesel for an electric.
He anticipates other states will offer similar incentives very soon. Since electric tractors meet the same need as diesel tractors but in a much better and efficient manner, Mani said, "Why not incentivize to buy an electric?"
Designed with a lithium iron phosphate battery, the battery design is very safe with good density and power. Owners can charge it overnight with a 110-volt wall charger or charge it in six to seven hours with a 220-volt charger. Stay tuned for Solectrac's new charger that will charge the tractor in two to three hours.
The runtime depends on the application. If you're using the loader or backhoe, it'll probably run the whole day. For any type of PTO or 3-point hitch implements, you're looking at about four to six hours of runtime (which is great for an open air tractor!).
Battery Pack Lifespan
Both the tractor and battery have a six-year warranty. With the battery cycle around 3,500 cycles, it has around a 10+ year lifespan even if you use it for 350 hours per year.
Today's farmers have to deal with a variety of issues: fossil fuels pollution, climate change, food security concerns and labor shortages. At Southland Organics, we're big proponents of sustainability, and the electric tractor could certainly be a step in the right direction for a sustainable future. With an electric model, you can make a difference right from your tractor seat. If you have any questions or ideas for future video topics, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-608-3755.
About the Author
This blog was written by Erin Flowers. As a writer and editor, Erin keeps a close eye on the details. Erin thoroughly researches each topic, fact checking and source searching to give our readers helpful resources for raising chickens, homesteading, and growing lawns and gardens. Erin graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor's degree in advertising. She began working with Southland Organics in 2018. Learn more about Erin here.
This blog was edited by Izy Dobbins, Southland Organics' Marketing Manager. Izy has devoted her education and career to communicating science-related topics. With an enthusiasm for sharing accurate and honest content relating to science and agriculture, she ensures Southland Organics' publications are as informative as they are interesting. Izy graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor's degree in advertising, minors in both Spanish and environmental health science and a Certificate in Sustainability. She has been working at Southland Organics since 2021. Learn more about Izy here.