First Fully Electric, Autonomous Tractor In The Midwest Unveiled In Missouri

by | Sep 25, 2023


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Ceilidh Kern is a community and environment reporter for the Columbia Missourian.

Title Image: Kent Shannon operaties the fully electric, autonomous ready tractor for a demonstration at Sanborn Field in Columbia. Though the tractor has automatic steering capabilities, university workers had not yet been trained on how to operate the machinery. Credit Kate Cassidy, Columbia Missourian.

The University of Missouri rolled out its first all-electric, autonomous tractor, calling it a “revolutionary piece of technology” that could pioneer new agricultural practices and make farming more efficient and sustainable.

The Monarch MK-V tractor, bought with grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is the Midwest’s first fully autonomous tractor, according to Christopher Daubert, dean of the MU College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources. The tractor will be used for research by CAFNR, the MU College of Engineering, and MU Extension.

The MK-V runs solely on electricity and is equipped with cameras and sensors that allow it to be driven remotely. Its artificial intelligence capabilities are designed to collect data and analyze crop health, allowing the machine to align with future agricultural innovation.

Kent Shannon, a CAFNR professor specializing in agricultural systems and technology, piloted the tractor for Tuesday’s demonstration. He said the MK-V was well-suited for smaller-scale farms, including his own.

“It provides some opportunities that a traditional tractor wouldn’t,” he said. “I can see me using this on a beef cattle farm at home.”

The tractor does come with a high price tag: A standard model starts at about $89,000, more than twice the price of a traditional tractor of the same size, Shannon said.

Even so, he emphasized that the total value of the tractor has yet to be fully understood, meaning that the price might actually be affordable given the advanced capabilities it offers.

William Lee, left, and Kent Shannon look at the tractor before the demonstration.

William Lee, left, and Kent Shannon look at the tractor before the demonstration. Credit Kate Cassidy, Columbia Missourian.

“If I went to the local dealership, yeah, I’d find something a lot cheaper than this,” he said. “But if you think about agriculture as a whole, it’s not exorbitant.”

“You might even think it was more than $90,000 for a tractor like this,” he added. “You’ve got to think of all of the technologies on it — there’s no other tractor of this stature that has both electric and autonomy capability.”

Sazzad Rifat, a PhD student at MU studying biosystems engineering, said he looks forward to learning about the tractor’s autonomous driving features and its ability to maneuver around obstacles.

To better understand the MK-V’s technologies, university researchers are interested in exploring its ability to support farmers with disabilities.

Findings from this research, as well as information about the MK-V, will be shared with farmers through MU Extension’s AgrAbility program, which helps farmers with disabilities overcome challenges.

For Missouri’s small-scale farms, this tractor’s technological capability could be revolutionary, said Dan Downing, a water quality expert with MU Extension in a news release.

A more sophisticated hydraulic system and engine reduce emissions that may interfere with farm conditions, Downing said. The tractor also scores very well environmentally on air and water quality measurements.

Because of the nascency of this new technology, no state subsidies are yet available to help farmers pay for it, according to Teng Lim, a professor at MU Extension. There is, however, a “good chance” of future state support, he said.

This story originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian.