Last summer, West Australian grain farmers like Neil Letter harvested a record-breaking crop.

While it was all powered by huge diesel harvesters, he is open to an electric future.

“I think electric, for example, would be a lot less maintenance, a lot more power-efficient, [and] diesel or fuel is getting expensive,” he said.

Tractors are some of the biggest purchases farmers like Neil Letter make.(ABC News: Eliza Borrello)

A market in its infancy

Tractor companies are experimenting with prototypes, so electric tractors are yet to hit the mainstream market in Australia.

Tractor companies like John Deere are continuing to develop and experiment with the new technology.

Boyup Brook farmer Carolyn Reid says that while electric technology is well and truly proven in small vehicles, tractors, particularly those used in Australian conditions, require much larger torque.

“They’ve got to be sufficient horsepower to meet all the different ranges that we need in power on our systems,” she said.

Kondinin Group research engineer Ben White agreed and said current electricity networks in regional Australia were unlikely to be suitable for charging large tractor batteries.

“We’re also talking about a network that probably isn’t as, let’s say, reliable and doesn’t have the capacity that we might have, say in the city, for drawing large amounts of energy.”

Mr Letter, who farms at Tambellup, 300 kilometres south-east of Perth, said the network’s reliability would be a concern.

“We tend to have problems with power out here as it is just with our household power.”

Serviceability will be a factor

Ms Reid said how easily a lower-carbon tractor could be serviced would be another consideration she would make before buying one.

Around the world, ammonia-fuelled tractors are also being tested, but Mr White believes diesel-electric models will be the first lower-carbon tractors sold widely in Australia.

“And then we might look at perhaps hydrogen cells or fuel cells to then drive those electric drive systems.”

He predicted it would be more than 10 years before there was a big shift away from diesel-powered machinery on Australian farms.

a header tractor harvesting grain in golden light
The vastness of Australia’s agricultural landscape will be a key challenge for the electric tractor industry.(Supplied: Ellie Morris Photography)

In the meantime, he said, farmers wanting to reduce their carbon footprint should focus on using fuel and fertiliser efficiently.

“Fuel use constitutes around 10 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions for the average cropping or crop producer in, WA, ” he said.

“If we’re looking to reduce emissions, it’s not the low-hanging fruit we need at this stage. We probably could look at fertilisers for a start.”

Extracted in full from: Electric cars are growing in popularity but what about electric tractors? – ABC News