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Monarch Autonomous Electric Tractor Demonstrated in Lodi Vineyard

by Ted Rieger
July 14, 2021
Monarch tractor in Lodi, photo by Ted Rieger. 

Lodi winegrape growers saw a field demonstration of the Monarch autonomous/driver-optional electric tractor July 9th at Round Valley Ranches Clay Station Vineyard in the Lodi American Viticultural Area (AVA). The new tractor technology, designed to provide environmental, labor and cost savings benefits for vineyard operations has been attracting interest through a continuing series of field demo days held since 2020 in California vineyards.

Round Valley Ranches partners Jonathan Wetmore  and Aaron Shinn requested the demo and hosted the field day in a Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in cooperation with Monarch and the Lodi Winegrape Commission (LWC). The tractor shown was a "Beta 1" demo unit pulling and operating an OnTarget sprayer.

Monarch's head of growth Douglas Kolker explained the benefits of the tractor's technology and provided ordering and pricing information. He said, as an electric tractor, it eliminates diesel emissions and costs, reducing a farm's carbon footprint. "The tractor is driver-optional, able to operate autonomously, it can be run 24/7 to save on labor costs and overtime, and it provides reliability while improving driver safety with less time in the field," Kolker said.

The Monarch Tractor has been in development since 2016. The Livermore-based company was founded in 2018. Its mission is to elevate farming practices to enable clean, efficient and economically viable solutions for farmers.  The company began building 15 units for its "Pilot Series" this year, and in 2022 will produce a higher run of its first "Production Series." The first pilot series tractor was delivered this year to Wente Vineyards in Livermore on Earth Day, April 22. Some of the vineyard operations the tractor has proven to perform successfully are mowing, disking, spraying and data collection.

Kolker said demand for the tractor has exceeded production to date. But he said growers who put up a $500 deposit per tractor would be placed in line for delivery when the tractors become available off the production line, and would be locked into current pricing. Current prices for two versions of one model available are $58,000 for a two-wheel drive unit and $68,000 for a four-wheel drive unit. Growers in California may be able to apply for and obtain grant funding to assist with purchase through the California Air Resources Board's programs to reduce diesel emissions from agricultural vehicles and equipment.

Winegrape grower and co-founder of RAEN Winery Carlo Mondavi (son of Tim and grandson of Robert) has been involved with Monarch Tractor since 2018 as a co-founder and the chief farming officer. Mondavi said, "I wanted to help develop something that I could use for my own farm."  Mondavi and his brother Dante farm estate vineyards planted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Sonoma Coast appellation.

Shinn of Round Valley Ranches, currently LWC vice chair, and chair of the Lodi Rules Committee that guides the LWC's sustainable viticulture program, believes, "This is where farming technology is going, with equipment that can perform autonomous operations given labor shortages and the need for efficiency, and with electric-powered equipment to reduce carbon emissions." Shinn said his company's initial interest in the tractor is to perform basic vineyard operations autonomously such as mowing, sulfur dusting and spraying. He indicated the Monarch's current size and power capacity has some limitations for operating larger vineyard tools in the larger acreages found in Lodi. But he also noted, "The ability to do autonomous data collection is huge. Farming is all about collecting data for decision-making, so that is something we would utilize, to cover more ground with fewer people."

Tractor Specifications and Operation

The Monarch tractor alone has a total weight of about 4,000 lbs. The battery pack, located in the front of the tractor, is nearly half the unit's weight. It is outfitted with 12 cameras to input visual data from 360 degrees to program for autonomous operation. The tractor is first manually driven over a desired route through the vineyard to collect route and location data. The data is processed and the tractor can then be operated autonomously over the same route to perform specific functions on future passes. The cameras, along with additional attached sensors, can be used for autonomous data collection to monitor vine growth, pest and disease pressure, record missing vines and obtain other desired information. The tractor's data system can collect and analyze over 240 GB of crop data every day. It can make real-time implement adjustments and uses machine learning to analyze data and field health. All data is stored safely in the cloud.

The tractor operates at a continuous 40 horsepower (HP) with a peak of 70 HP, and provides hydraulic flow of 16 gallons per minute (gpm) to operate attached tools with a lift capacity of 2,200 lbs. It can travel at a top speed of 25 mph, although that is not recommended for general operations. It has a turning radius at the end of rows of about 12 feet, and can operate in row widths down to about 6-feet, depending on function and canopy size.

The tractor can operate on a full battery charge up to a maximum of about 12 hours, if being operated alone for a task such as scouting/data collection. Depending on the operation, terrain, and power needed to operate attached tools, the tractor generally can operate 4 to 10 hours before requiring battery recharge or changeout. Battery recharge time with a Monarch charger is 4 to 5 hours. The tractor will provide a remote alert when the charge is getting low and is capable of returning to the charging unit on its own. The company is engineering a battery changeout cart with a crane and slide-out system that one person can operate in the field. The battery comes with a 10-year warranty.

Monarch Tractor supports the "Right to Repair" concept. Monarch ranch specialist Tim Rowe said, "All parts used on the tractor are off-the-shelf, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts from the automotive, ag and electronics industries." He added, "We want you to be able to do repairs yourself. You can also talk with a service person in Livermore by camera or online and they can walk you through it."

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