It has been a few months more than a year that Monarch Tractor, of Livermore, California, introduced the Monarch tractor, what the technology manufacturer said is the world’s first fully electric, driver-optional smart tractor integrated onto a single platform.
In the time since, Monarch has seen two major rounds of investment and an important licensing agreement with CNH Industrial (manufacturer of Case IH and New Holland Agriculture, among others). The tractor began real-world operations in a California vineyard and is now expanding into berries and orchards in Oregon and Washington.
“What makes Monarch Tractor unique is that you are answering the three big challenges farmers have,” said Praveen Penmetsa, co-founder and CEO of Monarch Tractor. “Farmers have labor shortages around the globe. Farmers are under tremendous pressure from their buyers to reduce emissions and provide more sustainability data (to their buyers). Farmers are also working with razor-thin margins.”
The Monarch tractor addresses those issues by combining electrification, automation, machine learning and data analysis to improve the farm manager’s real-time vision of the farming operation by both collecting and analyzing visual and digitized data from the field. The Monarch features a 360-degree camera surveillance system and can process 240 gigabytes (GB) of crop data every operating day.
California’s Wente Vineyards added two new Monarch tractors to its operations in 2021. “We’ve always been interested in new technologies, especially those that contribute to sustainability,” said Niki Wente, fifth-generation grower and senior vineyard and viticulture manager.
“Autonomy is 100% a game changer. This tractor could become my next field scout. Produce pictures. Alert me when something doesn’t look right within a vineyard block, what insects are feeding there or what virus that might be, and pinpoint it on a GPS map.” Wente is the country’s longest, continuously operated family-owned winery, founded in 1883.
The most recent $61-million funding round was led by Astanor Ventures, a leading sustainable food venture firm. The funding round also included contributions from CNH Industrial, At One Ventures and Trimble Ventures. Monarch will use this financing to scale up its sales and services functions. The investment will allow Monarch to increase its production facilities by three times.
“With support from such companies, we’re well-positioned right to start scaling up. (This) should provide confidence to the farmers (when companies) such as CNH and Trimble are seeing value in what we are doing,” Penmetsa said. “As we collaborate with them and start pushing our product out, this will incorporate all the great lessons and technologies and expertise that both those companies have, as well.”
“Monarch is transforming what is arguably the most important vehicle on the planet — tractors,” said Hendrik Van Asbroeck, partner at Astanor Ventures. “Tractors … have not seen the same wave of digital innovation as we have seen in the automobile industry. Monarch’s tractors capture detailed on-farm data to enable the sustainable and efficient farms of the future.”
CNH’s investments in Monarch include a licensing agreement. By that agreement, “our technology allows CNH to deploy electric tractors with Monarch technology,” Penmetsa said. “It basically accelerates the (technology) road map for both companies.”
Scott Wine, CEO, CNH Industrial, added: “This partnership underscores our commitment to rapidly improving our alternative propulsion and precision-farming portfolio.”
The Monarch tractor acts essentially as an in-field hub for data collection and observation and even operates as a powerful generator and a local source of electrical power.
But, it’s very much a tractor for conventional operations. The Monarch will create alerts, provide actionable information, as well as give managers close insight into what is going on in a field.
For example, the Monarch incorporates a microweather station that, among climatic conditions, monitors wind speed. The platform will cease spraying operations if wind conditions around the Monarch exceed either preplanned or regulatory parameters for pesticide applications.
“(The Monarch tractor operates) on settings for your farm, in real time, adjusting for your operation and still leaving you in control,” Penmetsa explained. “Our pitch to farmers is that you have a most experienced tractor driver, someone who has been around for a long time. Let’s elevate him to fleet manager. You get your best tractor driver’s settings across whole fields.”
10 KEY FEATURES OF THE MONARCH TRACTOR
Monarch is focusing on compact tractors because it’s the most common platform in the world. It is a fast-growing segment in the United States, where compact units are typically used more than 100 days per year. Here are 10 of its major features:
- The tractor is 100% electric and has zero tailpipe emissions.
- It resembles a compact tractor but is narrower and slightly longer. The hood features a uniquely designed, stamped cargo carrier to carry supplies, such as an ATV.
- The electric drivetrain is capable of providing 40 hp (30 kw) of continuous power and short-duration peak power up to 70 hp (55 kw). It has the capabilities to be a powerful generator in the field.
- The PTO (540 rpm) and three-point hitch — 2,200 pounds of lift — are comparable to a conventional diesel tractor of the same class.
- Its hydraulic capacity, 12 gallons per minute, equals or exceeds conventionally powered units of the same size.
- Because it is electric, the Monarch has two times as much torque as comparable units.
- The electric tractor is powered by a large battery with 10-plus hours of operating time. Under high workloads, the battery gives managers four to five hours of operation — enough time to complete a field shift in California.
- A battery recharge requires up to five hours. However, Monarch sells an optional, swappable battery pack. The swap can be performed by one person in 10 minutes.
- The tractor can perform preprogrammed tasks without a driver, or an operator can use Monarch’s interactive automation to have the tractor follow a worker on the job.
- The Monarch tractor can work with farmers’ current implements, as well as the next generation of smart implements. Sensors and imaging are processed to provide critical data points used for real-time implement adjustments.
Monarch tractors are assembled in Livermore, California. The base price is $50,000. The swappable battery pack is $15,000. A 4WD version is being field-tested, and Monarch plans to introduce additional platforms in both higher- and lower-horsepower ranges, as well as a tracked version to negotiate, for example, the steep contours of the West Coast vineyards.
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