Sustainability on the Farm

Local couple uncover a powerful purchase with new electric tractor

Story and photos by Craig Reed

Paul Atkinson and Sid Baum uncover a powerful purchase with a new electric tractor used to care for their flock of free-range chickens. Photo by Craig Reed

Having owned an electric cart and an electric car for several years, it was only a matter of time before Paul Atkinson and Sid Baum added an electric tractor to their farm operation.

They were patient, doing research and waiting for some of the issues with the electric tractor to be worked out.

Last September, after a Solectrac 25 horsepower all-wheel electric tractor went through an afternoon demonstration on their farm, the couple made the $34,000 purchase from Brim Tractor Co. in Eugene.

Paul uses the tractor daily to haul buckets and barrels of feed and hay bales from the barn to the farm’s free-range chickens. The tractor pulls the chicken coops and the turkey pens to new ground. It is also used to mow grass and aerate the ground.

“It’s quiet,” Paul says. “It works fine for my farm jobs. I’ve run it for hours mowing. I’m pleasantly surprised by its power and ability to till and aerate the ground.”

With a pallet attached to a 3-point hitch on the back of the tractor, Paul loads barrels and bales on the flat surface, along with buckets and bales in the tractor’s front loader, and powers up a hillside pasture to the chicken coop.

The farm still has a diesel-driven tractor with a big bucket, but Paul says it won’t get as much use except when the bigger bucket is more efficient for a job.

Besides being quieter, the electric tractor is saving the farm the cost of diesel fuel. There are no emissions, resulting in healthier air, and the electric tractor has no engine oil or filters to replace. No tune-ups are needed. Using solar panels on a couple of rooftops, the tractor can be recharged on-site.

Paul says electric power came to the farm’s rural area near Crow in 1938. At that time, most homes used propane cook stoves and water heaters, and wood-burning stoves.

Paul Atkinson uses his electric tractor daily to haul buckets and barrels of feed and hay bales from the barn to the farm’s free range chickens.

“At that time, rural residents didn’t know about the harmful effects of gas and wood heaters on their home’s indoor air quality,” Paul explains. “Now we do know and can change direction with the availability of electric cars, ATVs, tractors and very soon, trucks. Highly efficient ductless electric heat pumps are replacing wood stoves. These new electric appliances, vehicles and equipment are cheaper to run and more reliable, quieter and free of health-harming pollutants and emissions.

“A clean electric-powered future is coming for all of us. It’s possible and necessary.”

Paul and Sid say they want to be an example and show a transition to electric is possible. They bought a used electric cart in 2010, leased an electric car in 2013, bought a Nissan Leaf electric car in 2016 and a Chevrolet Volt electric car in 2018. They had solar panels installed on their barn in 2014, then on their pole building in 2020 and added more panels on the barn in 2021. The couple also have an electric chainsaw and electric lawnmower.

“We’re generating more power than we’re using on a yearly basis,” says Paul of the solar panels, noting the excess power goes to the Lane Electric Cooperative grid.

Paul and Sid say the next major purchase, sometime in the future, will be an electric pickup truck.

ChickenPaul wants to show other tractor users that the electric tractor is capable of doing much of the farm work.

“We want to show it’s not that strange,” he says. “We want to set an example of how it should be done so in the future there’s not as much strain on the power grid.”

Tractor manufacturer Solectrac says its mission is “to lead the transition to zero-emissions regenerative agriculture and utility operations with best-in-class technology for a safer, cleaner and healthier future.”

Bob Kuperus, a sales consultant at Brim Tractor in Eugene, says the electric tractor is a fairly new product for the company and has drawn a lot of interest.

“Our seven stores in the Pacific Northwest probably sold 12 to 15 tractors last year,” he says. “They’re all the same size, 25 horsepower, all-wheel drive with a front loader and a three-point hitch.

“They have great power,” he adds. “The torque of an electric motor at 25 horsepower is far greater than the torque of a 25-horsepower diesel engine. The proof is in running the tractor, using the tractor.”

Bob says the biggest issue for the electric tractor is that it hasn’t been used enough in order to prove itself to potential users.

Paul Atkinson’s electric tractor helps them save on their farm by cutting the costs associated with traditional diesel-powered tractors. The couple use solar panels to recharge the tractor.

Paul and Sid agree that until there’s about 10 years of electric tractor use, the reviews on them will be incomplete. But with their experiences with electric cars the past 10 years, they are confident their new electric tractor will get their farm jobs done with few—if any—issues.

“We have a moral obligation to do what we can to make ourselves less unsustainable,” Paul says. “We need to work toward making our lives sustainable.”

Sid agrees.

“It’s also more pleasant to be around vehicles that are not spewing fumes,” Sid says.