Post-peak mechanized agriculture: the RAMSES project

The joy of mechanized agriculture. Image (1971) courtesy of Stefan Landsberger

Both in the capitalist and in the socialist world, tractors have been seen as machines of freedom, symbols of progress and modernization. Indeed, mechanized agriculture has been a worldwide revolution that has freed a large part of humankind from the Biblical curse of hard work. However, with the reserves of fossil fuels being slowly depleted, can we keep tractors running? The RAMSES project proposes an answer: a new model of agricultural mechanization based on battery powered vehicles and renewable energy sources.

Today, agriculture in the industrialized world is a task for a minuscule fraction of the workforce; people whose job is to operate heavy machinery powered by fossil fuels. But, with peak oil arriving, or perhaps already arrived, we are going to see big changes. In itself, mechanization does not affect agricultural yields, but higher costs of fossil fuels are already affecting food prices. And, without power from mechanical engines, farming would have to go back to the old ways; relying again on human and animal muscles. Richard Heinberg has spoken of the need of "50 million farmers" for agriculture in the USA. But that would imply transforming overweight and under-excercised office workers into the kind of lean and fit peasants who are the typical workforce of countries where the industrial revolution has not arrived yet. It won't be easy, especially if we were forced to do it in a short time.

When the issue of powering agricultural machines is raised, the usual answer is in terms of biofuels. But that is not a very good idea unless we can develop some new and much more efficient way of making biofuels. In their present form, biofuels need too much land, need artificial fertilizer and, more than all, are in competition with food production. Other, exotic forms of fuel, hydrogen for instance, are too expensive and complex for agriculture, at least for the time being.

As it is often the case, the solution of a difficult problem can be found thinking "out of the box". Here, we are often locked to the concept that what we need is some kind of fuel, possibly in liquid form, to operate traditional engines. But the internal combustion engine is very inefficient; the only reason why it has had so much success is because fossil fuels have been extremely cheap so far. With that condition becoming rapidly obsolete, we need to move to more efficient systems. Modern renewable technologies (mainly photovoltaics and wind) are much more efficient than biofuels in terms of land needed per unit energy produced. In addition, most renewable sources produce electric power, compatible with cheap and efficient electric motors. These advantages are offset, in part, by the need of storing electric power in heavy and expensive batteries. Nevertheless, battery powered electric vehicles are making a comeback on roads and there exist light electric tractors available on the market. Can we think of electric motors and vehicles taking a major role in agriculture?

The RAMSES project

About three years ago, Ugo Bardi (your author) and Toufic El Asmar (agronomist at the University of Florence, Italy) sat together and conceived the idea of a complete, renewable energy system that would provide both electric and mechanical power for agriculture. We gave it the name of "RAMSES", an acronym that stands for something like "renewable multipurpose agricultural systems for farmers". But, actually, "Ramses" is an ancient Egyptian word that means "born of the sun-god Ra" and that seemed to us an auspicious name for the idea (later on, we learned of another vehicle named "Ramses"; a modern Egyptian battle tank).

The idea of the RAMSES system is to couple a renewable energy source (in this case a photovoltaic plant) with a multipurpose, battery powered agricultural vehicle. The system also includes a stationary battery pack for energy storage. The energy produced can be used in the farm, stored in the vehicle's batteries, in the stationary batteries, or sold to the grid. The batteries of the vehicle can also be used for powering the farm if needed. It is a complete energy system that makes the farm - potentially - independent from fossil fuels.

Once we had thought of all this, we assembled a team able to build the system and we submitted the project to the European Commission which financed it under the 6th framework program. RAMSES is a multinational effort which includes four European countries (Italy, Poland, Spain and UK) and three Mediterranean ones (Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco). After almost three years of work, a complete prototype system has been assembled.

Below, you can see the RAMSES 12 kWp photovoltaic plant, based on monocrystalline silicon cells. It has been built at the final destination where the system will be tested: the monastery of Mar Sarkis and Bakhos, in Lebanon, about 35 km from Beirut. The plant was built by the Lebanese company ADMElectric.

Here is an image of the power storage system: a pack of lead batteries capable of storing about 2000 Ah, complete with inverters for providing standard electric power to the farm. All the batteries for the RAMSES project were provided by Tudor (Spain).

And, finally, here is the RAMSES vehicle. It was built in Italy, by OELLE. Here, however, you see it in the snow, in Poland. It was moved there for adding a number of accessories (by the Krukowiak company) and for testing by IBMER, the institute of agricultural mechanization and electrification.

The RAMSES vehicle is a multi-purpose light truck powered by a 12 kW electric motor. For ease of use and ruggedness, we used standard lead-gel batteries as on-board storage. Although the vehicle doesn't look like a traditional tractor, it has many of the capabilities that normally are found on tractors. Its 4-wheel transmission lets it run on or off-road. It can be used for transportation with its ability of carrying about 1 ton load and a maximum speed on roads of about 45 km/h. It is not designed for very rough terrains or for heavy agricultural work, such as plowing all day long. But its hydraulic three points hitch permits to link it to a variety of agricultural machinery for such tasks as watering, spraying, fruit collecting, seeding and many others. In the following figure, you can see the vehicle equipped with a 200 liters agricultural sprayer.


A prototype is a nice toy to play with but, eventually, we need to answer a few crucial questions about the RAMSES system:

1. Is it really environmentally friendly?

2. How much does it cost?

3 Can it replace conventional systems?

With the prototype still under test, we can't answer these questions with absolute certainty. But we carried out simulations and we can already give some answers.

In terms of environmental impact, there is no doubt that the RAMSES system is a winner. Our LCA calculations show that it is better than its conventional competitors on almost all pollution counts, from greenhouse gases to local pollutants. This is not surprising, since the system relies on renewable energy and it doesn't use fossil fuels except as source of energy for the manufacturing of the system itself. It turns out that the main source of pollution of the RAMSES system are the lead batteries during the manufacturing and recycling process; but lead release in the environment is truly minimal.

Cost is a critical question: how does it compare with conventional systems? If we calculate the external costs (pollution and global warming) the RAMSES system has a significant advantage. However, these external costs are not paid directly by farmers and, despite the fact that the RAMSES system does not need fuel, there are monetary costs in terms of investment and in terms of the periodic replacement of batteries and other parts. Our calculations indicate that the RAMSES system in its present configuration is slightly more expensive than a conventional, diesel powered system over a life cycle of 30 years. In order to have the same life cycle costs for the two cases - RAMSES and conventional - diesel fuel would have to cost more than 1.5 EUR/liter. That is higher than the present cost at the pump, even without considering subsidies given to farmers. Nevertheless, this result is encouraging. In the future, the cost effectiveness of the system may be improved eliminating the stationary batteries and relying only on the grid as storage, but at present this is not possible in Lebanon because of the local regulations. The advantage of the RAMSES system, anyway, goes beyond a simple cost comparison: it lies in being independent from fossil fuels and therefore not sensible to supply interruptions and oil price spikes.

Then, there is the question whether the use of the RAMSES vehicle will be practical for agriculture. Agricultural vehicles come in many kinds and many shapes; some as large combine harvesters and some as small, hand operated cultivators. The RAMSES vehicle doesn't pretend to be compared to giant agricultural machines. It has been conceived and designed to be used in a specific environment: in a farm in Lebanon where the main product is olive oil. Here, the vehicle will be used for a variety of light agricultural tasks. Because of the specific climatic conditions there, we assume that the vehicle will work for 2-4 hours in the morning, then it will be recharged over midday, when the temperature is so high that it is impossible to work in the fields. In the afternoon, the vehicle will be used again for 2-4 hours and will be recharged again overnight. In the present configuration, the vehicle is expected to be able to perform these tasks, but modifications may be needed for different conditions. If more endurance is needed, for instance, there is space in the present prototype for adding more on-board batteries.

The final question is whether an all-electric, renewable agriculture is really possible. Can we think of an electric combine harvester? Can we plow the fields with electrical tractors? The answer is, "yes, but..." In principle, it is perfectly possible to design and build heavy electric agricultural vehicles such as tractors and combines. But, if we use lead batteries and we want the machine to keep working all the day long, we need a very large battery pack and that would be very expensive. There are many technological possibilities to improve on lead batteries and perhaps in the future the problem of storage will be solved with new possibilities. But, if we have to stay with current technology, we must think of battery powered mechanized agriculture as something more limited than the kind of mechanization we are used to.

It is unavoidable, anyway, that future agriculture will be something very different from what it is today. The problem with modern agriculture is not just that of powering tractors and vehicles. It lies with the need of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, with the erosion of the fertile soil and, not the least, with the emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting climate change that may damage agricultural yields. For the future, we must think of an agriculture which will not destroy the fertile soil, which will need less (or no) artificial fertilizers and pesticides, and which will be, in general, less polluting and more sustainable. It will not be anymore the kind of large scale, heavily mechanized enterprise we are used to but, likely, a smaller scale operation, more based on local resources. Maybe it will be something like the "50 million farmers" that Heinberg has proposed. But it may not necessarily need human beings as engines, as it was the use before the industrial revolution. The results of the RAMSES project show that using renewable electric power is a concrete possibility to break away from the present dependency on fossil fuels in agriculture.

Technical data

The all-electric, battery powered RAMSES agricultural vehicle shown at its first appearance on roads, in Modena, Italy, in 2008. From left, Toufic El Asmar, Paolo Pasquini, and Ugo Bardi; respectively: project coordinator, vehicle designer, and coordinator of the vehicle team. At this link you can also see short movies of the vehicle in action

RAMSES doesn't claim to be the first electrical vehicle in agriculture, but it is an original idea under several respects: it has been designed from scratch as an electric vehicle, not as the retrofitting of an existing vehicle. Also, it was conceived with production in series in mind, not as destined to remain a single prototype. Finally, it is not just an electric vehicle, but a complete energy system designed for use in a world where fossil fuels are destined to become less and less abundant.

The RAMSES vehicle uses standard components which can be serviced or replaced with a minimum effort. It is powered by a 96 V, 12 kW dc brushed motor located in the center, in a position protected from damage. An auxiliary, on board 12 kW motor is used for powering external agricultural equipment and the hydraulic system. The motors are powered by 16 6V 180 Ah lead-gel batteries. The two battery packs can be connected in series at 96 volts, for street use, or in parallel, at 48 V, for the highest torque for off road use. This set of batteries is expected to be able to power the vehicle for a range of about 70-80 km on roads and for 2-4 h of work in the fields. The maximum speed on roads is around 45 km/h. The vehicle weighs 1700 kg, including the driver and has a capacity of about one ton load.

The photovoltaic plant that powers the vehicle has a maximum power of 12 kW and is based on monocrystalline, silicon panels. The stationary energy system is based a lead-acid battery pack of total storage capacity of 2000 Ah.


I would like to thank first of all the European Commission, which has financed the RAMSES project as No. 32447 of the 6th framework program. Then, I'd like to thank all the partners of the RAMSES project; you may find a full list of them at the Project site . Thanks are also due to the University of Tehran, department of agricultural machinery engineering, and in particular to professor Alireza Keyhani and to Mr. Hossein Mousazadeh, who has performed the LCA evaluation of the system (see references). Special thanks are due to Mr. Paolo Pasquini who has given to the project a decisive contribution with his great experience in electric vehicles (see also his Boxel vehicle).


More data on the RAMSES system can be found in this article:

Environmental assessment of RAMseS multipurpose electric vehicle compared to a conventional combustion engine vehicle . by Hossein Mousazadeh, Alireza Keyhani, Hossein Mobli, Ugo Bardi, Ginevra Lombardi and Toufic el Asmar, Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 17, Issue 9, June 2009, Pages 781-790

The "fifty million farmers" 2006 essay by Richard Heinberg can be found at this link

Have a look at the creations of John Howe in Maine, USA:

Speaking as an old farmboy:

1)Nice work!

2) Here's another example, of the many flavors that will be needed.

3) I don't know how to do pure-electric combines either (i.e., 300HP things with 60-gallon diesel tanks, for example), but that's probably survivable. If we electrify all of the current agricultural uses for petroleum-based fuels that we can, that saves fuel for the vehicles for which this is difficult. At some point, maybe there is some nth-generation biofuel that is good enough to handle those cases, if they are a small-enough fraction of current. Certainly, if Iowa has to devote some of its acreage to biofuel crops in order to keep growing fodd, they'll do it.

A really good thing about electric farm machinery is that people generally don't take them on long-distance joyrides. They don't normally go very far away, so the issues for BEV cars matter much less.

4) There are places in Africa where:
a) Tsetse flies cause trouble for draught animals.
b) They can't possibly afford gas/diesel-powered tractors, especially at the far end of a supply/support chain.
c) They aren't on a grid.
d) So they have manual subsistence agriculture.

Electric vehicles ought to be simpler, with less moving parts, and IF those places are ever to get much above subsistence farming with manual labor, it's going to look more like your pictures.

Anyway, congratulations again on nice work and post here.

Thank you Ugo for the article. I think you have a good start. Reminds me a little of an old article about a Willys Jeep converted to do farming functions.

Like John mentions above, and others mention below, it is very important to state the scale of farm you are seeking solutions for. The wheat or corn field that reaches to the horizon requires a whole different approach than the smaller more intensive farm.

Being a supplier of agricultural grade garden tools here in the states I do often hear from people looking for small-scale farming equipment, primarily for tilling and harvesting. So there is an unmet need here.

A couple of ideas that popped to mind:
* make your vehicle able to run both on battery and on remote power fed by an electric cable. Probably with just a simple mechanical switch so you can drive to remote power source and plug in.
** now picture center-pivot irrigation systems and imagine that round growing area with a power pole at the axis and with a retractable cable reel either on the pole or on the vehicle itself. Irrigated farmers have already mastered driving in big circles :)
*** consider a tall-tire vehicle (like the specialized spraying vehicles) that would allow movement over long raised beds and over taller crops.

Keep up the good work!

I like the idea of the Rotating Irrigators carrying power AS WELL as water, perhaps, if there's any sense in combining such equipment to perform multiple functions. Does that seem like a workable idea?


Good suggestions, we'll think about all that; thanks!

> They don't normally go very far away ...

Depending on field traversal patterns, it might be possible to stage portions of the battery pack at field edges or corners so that only part of the battery pack needs to be carried with the tractor/combine/etc., thus reducing weight, drag, etc. and improving performance.

> There are places in Africa where: ...

The tsetse fly has been credited with protecting natural rangelands from human encroachment, and preserve them as food reserves needed by all those migrating herds we so enjoy to watch. Gaining access to such areas via solar-charged electric vehicles might provoke an application of the Jevons Paradox ( ) (i.e., facilitating access will enable us to exploit more of Nature and will ultimately be counter-productive).

-- Philip B. / Washington, DC

That is a point worth noting, but I suspect that overall, our reach into wilderness will be shrinking as the most powerful fuels subside. I would expect these E-Tractors, like Windmills and PV will serve to slightly slow our shrinkage, not cause more expansion overall.

great stuff. this is the kind of thing that will help smooth some of the bumps along the way down the backside of the oil slope. Let's hope the production on this ramps quickly.

Given the image at top, it reminded me of a song...

by The Red Crayola, with Art & Language
from the LP "Kangaroo?"

In a plain spring landscape
Stands a tractor driver
He's a simple verity
In the noble theme of labour.

A chorus of small birds
Sings - a live bubbling stream
And the hope of the future
Pervades the rural scene.

The man surveys the meadows
At the start of Spring
With all te blind amazement
His simplicity can bring

Overjoyed, a little awed
by nature and himself;
By tremendous natural power,
By his optimism and health.

As if to match the progress
Of a thought so high,
The exhaust trail of an aeroplane
Is written in the sky...

Broadacre cropping in prairie or rangelands with fields of say 20 hectares/50ac needs machines with 100kw or bigger engines. These are for tasks like disc plowing, harrowing and combine harvesting. Perhaps when there is no diesel or NPK this form of agriculture will dwindle. For starch we will eat potatoes instead of wheat products and they will be fertilised with compost and humanure.

However vegie growing may be easier than broadacre. I've heard that friable soils can be tilled into ridges with implements towed behind a tractor as low powered as 35hp/26kw. A blade weeder next to the tynes can sever the roots of weeds without needing chemicals. The field size might be say 1 ha or 2.5 ac. An hour's full work by a battery tractor will therefore need 26 kwh requiring a huge battery pack in a machine double the power of the vehicle illustrated.

Even better might be a gantry system whereby rectangular plots of say 20m by 100m are enclosed in rail tracks. This is currently done in tree seedling nurseries and some forms of vegetable growing. A tracked tillage machine of just a few kilowatts in power should be able to perform most tasks but we are talking 'field' sizes just 1% of typical wheat fields.

Therefore I believe the long term solution way post Peak is to farm at both extremes; natural gas powered machinery for large fields and tracked systems for small plots. That means battery powered tractors miss out; they are not powerful enough for cereal cropping nor are they as efficient as gantry systems.

Somehow I just don't see this working ???

"I've heard that friable soils can be tilled into ridges with implements towed behind a tractor as low powered as 35hp/26kw "

But for how long ?

How many KWhrs to prepare and plant an acre ?

The tractor in this link looks to be about 60 hp/45kw. It needs an hour per hectare or 24 minutes per acre in an already well tilled soil. So I make that about 18 kwh per acre. A blade weeder and clay soil could increase that energy requirement considerably.

Remember that diesel (45 MJ/kg) has 450 times the energy density of a lead acid battery (0.1 MJ/kg).

On the presumption that mains electricity is
available for farming a solution is to provide
overhead supply as is done for trolley buses.
Two wires and the pickup on the roof of the
harvester etc.
It would need lines of poles across the paddock to
support the wire.

I suspect that this would be a lot cheaper than stacks of batteries that would need replacing at
It would make the area between the poles unusable
but would be a small penalty for the almost unlimited
power that would be available.

The separation between rows could be quite large as
trolley buses can move right across multilane highways.

Good idea. Even that might not even be needed if human labour becomes cheap - just run cable direct from the power source to the tractor on trailing power cable, with a few farm workers managing the cable as it snakes behind.

There is this possibility of using rails or overhead wires to power tractors It has been done in the 1930s. It may come back; in this case we'll have hybrid systems. Batteries will still be needed for going around and for light work, but when it is time to go for the heavy work, the machines would be connected to the grid. Right now, the RAMSES vehicle is not made to run on an extension from mains, but it could be modified very easily to do so. Maybe it is the way of the future.

Maybe they miss out of your prediction of the future, but I think we may well find ourselves going NOT to the extremes, but back towards the boring middle. These machines are in a managable human scale, not too far beyond the team of Horses or Oxen that defined Ag a century or more ago, and apparently of a size that is managable for upkeep, maintenance and modifications. Many castings and machine-finishing could be handled on a local level.

Beyond that, they are technically/electronically very simple, and can be built or retrofitted from VERY robust base-vehicles.

Here is a great testimonial quote from a farmer that converted an old Allis-Chalmers 'G' from the 40's to Electric Power.

When I built our first electric tractor, I had NO EXPERIENCE working with electric motors, and only limited exerience working on gasoline engines. That first tractor is well into it's third year now, and still working beautifully on a full-time basis, with NO tune-ups or adjustments necessary (unlike it's earlier gasoline incarnation!)

The tractor you'll be building from these instructions is even more bullet-proof and less-complicated to put together than our first machine. There are fewer machined parts, too, so if something DOES eventually break (we are farmers, after all) it should be even easier to order a bolt on, off-the-shelf replacement.

I like the gantry idea myself, and have toyed with thoughts of very light rail running between fields as well, where rolling stock would cover a span between sets of track to fly equipment over the fields (Which one would orient as long straightaways, obviously..) but I haven't worried myself with any feasibility studies on them.. just chewin' cud.

Agreed, jokuhl:
Much of this discussion seems to ignore timescales. Surely we can agree on the extremes: barring global war or pandemic, there will be diesel to run tractors for the next few decades. Equally true is the fact that ultimately (a century?) it will be too expensive and inconvenient to produce and distribute all of that fuel to far-flung, large-scale farms.

Sorry, but those urban gardens will never "feed" us, meaning produce most of our calories. Sure, they'll give us fresh vegetables, but unless you have big nut trees in your yard, you and your spouse won't be growing the 1.5 million calories that you two need each year to stay strong.

What I don't get is the continued attraction to high-tech fixes, especially in this community that recognizes and often preaches the need for resilience and self-reliance. Five or ten years is a mighty short horizon for replacing all those heavy, toxic batteries, decade after decade. We could back off from the "90-10 rule" and still get most of the performance from a lot less sophisticated system:
External combustion engines can run on locally produced waste biomass, and be simple enough to maintain without a EE and a lot of replacement PCB's.

Steam tractors bridged the gap between draught animals and diesel machinery once before - maybe it will happen again.

Steam works, but stirlings work better. Lots more power/fuel rate. And they work just fine on raw biomass. Just stuff it into the burner, or if you like, pelletize it. Stirlings can be made about as powerful/volume as diesels, and can be made to just make electricity, not turn a shaft, which makes them cheaper and very long lived.

References? Lots. Look up automotive stirling programs of 30 years ago. Also look up present space isotope power programs.

Electric motors are great. And as to batteries, it always seems so obvious to me that you make the battery pack separate so it can be replaced instantly (almost) when depleted. Especially easy to do in farm equipment, where a big box sitting out in an easily grabbed place won't cause the owner to faint from aesthetic shock.

Now I am gonna sit back and await the usual counter-groans based on the "not been done and therefor never can be done" argument. Sigh.

Stirling engines work great for silent non nuclear submarines where they turn generators by burning liquid oxygen and diesel. And two Swedish companies have recently started small scale series production to export for the solar power market. I see no problem with using such engines for wehicels if you allow them to be a little bulky and it has been done. There are also initiatives to use them for miniture combined heat and power plants. There are no technial hurdels left as far as I know but the cost for the machined parts, it needs too manny high spec parts to be dirt cheap. But if people pay more it would probabky be fairly easy to retool car engine part factories and car engine factories for making them by the tens or hundreds of thosands per year.

Not a "counter-groan" but just asking 'cause I don't know:

It seems to me that in a tractor high torque at low rpm is a good thing.

I know electric is great for this, but it seems the costs and complexity (of the generation and storage, not the vehicle itself) are a killer.

How does Sterling compare to traditional piston steam in this respect?

Good comments. Thanks. What I was thinking of was a biomass fired stirling being an on-board battery charger. The electric motor gives all the torque. So, we still have sort of a solar powered electric tractor, except by a different route- solar to biomass to stirling to battery to motor, rather than same except solar to PV, etc.

Of course, you could leave the biomass-stirling- generator on the ground, charging that quick-change battery going into the tractor.

Electric motors are so good!

BTW. We can make stirlings with no higher demands on machine tolerances than IC engine. Only thing somewhat special is the hot end- has to be at least stainless steel. Cast iron or other dirt cheap stuff won't do. Behind that hot end, rest of it is just another piece of iron, nothing fancy. The Swedish stirlings are great, but have the advantage that cost-no-object, given their use. We can make things far less fancy for tractor-biomass, where nobody's life depends on it (we hope).

The wheat fields of Canada, Australia and US were farmed by horse drawn plows and harvesters prior to 1920 so it must be possible to farm with considerably less than 100hp tractors, not as efficient, probably a smaller width plowed.

When I lived in NSW I bred draft horse crosses (Percheron X thoroughbred) that grew over 17 hands tall and weighed 900 kg. I've towed a mouldboard plow and harrows behind these clumpers and I can tell you a tractor is simpler and more reliable. I think we should shake off this myth of going back to horse drawn agriculture. Unless world population reduces 90% or so. Some friends in Australia used to mail order draft horse harness from the Amish. All good fun until food shortages start in earnest.

I agree that a lot of future farming will be within city limits. Not so much community gardens for dabblers but high yielding farms run as a business.

While I agree that ultimately mechanized farming will collapse, i don't agree that it will be the first thing to go. In the Panic, before we run out of oil, the governments will direct enough oil to agriculture to ensure basic food supplies.

Growing 100 Ha or more of wheat or soy beans with large scale machinery is going to be the only way to avoid mass starvation for quite while. There is plenty of useless stuff carted around our highways at the moment, burning up very precious diesel that will simply be denied supply in order for broad acre crops to continue.

Ag will have to do its bit. We may see the return of droving where livestock do alot more walking and a lot less feedloting in order to keep the tractors and combines going in the wheatbelt.

Delivery of produce direct to consumers will mean bypassing processors that assemble tasty packaged goods from ingredients shipped in from everywhere. Town millers next to bakers may return rather than the absurd situation today where bread is trucked to supermarkets from more than 300km away. Ditto for breweries.

After the Panic, when reality dawns on us that BAU ain't coming back, we will need to resurrect the rural rail lines to bring the crops, wool and livestock to the cities and fertiliser back to the country.

In the Panic, before we run out of oil, the governments will direct enough oil to agriculture

Term- May I rephrase your thesis here as follows?:
"In the Panic caused by governments' lack of foresight in the face of many warnings of the coming oil crisis, those same governments will have the foresight to direct enough oil to agriculture, even at the time when they are deluged with more immediate problems such as coping with disorder and crime and economic chaos and inability of many key personnel to get to work".

Hi Boof,
How about this one? In my garden I do not turn the soil but use a light torching ( with propane) On weeds and cover crops. leave this to stand for a few days till the scorched leaves weaken the plant and then use a horizontal blade with a (me) powered tiller, rake and seed. I have a rototiller bought years ago but it is more trouble than doing it the above way. As well, I seem to get less later weeds this way. Maybe up north here instead of horses I could use a husky or two if I wanted to get serious and do grain on acerage:)

On the north coast we get lots of rain and so I also try to cover a lot with poly and that makes the soil a treat to work with in the spring, it ends up just moist enough, very friable and with black poly no weeds. More we do that way the less need for the plough or shovel.

I am sure there are a lot more simple low impact labour/fuel/beast savings devices about that one could use like a 'water wand ' made out of half inch poly pipe about 8 or 10 feet long with a small shutoff. I use this to dig and water plant holes in one action, reduces a lot of stoop labour and also great for watering individual plants down at the roots. ( incidentely if one sticks this in the soil about four or five inches and turns it on, very suddenly, it makes a happily satisfying explosion and chucks stuff in the air.

Not so much community gardens for dabblers but high yielding farms run as a business.

I worked briefly once with a local one and found it very trying attempting to get anything serious done - more time seemed to be spent having meetings about having other meetings or eating pot luck horribles.

Who's talking about going back to horses, I said you don't need a 100hp tractor if a few horses could plow broad acre crops.

We farmed with draft animals but in 1915 we had 36 million acres of oats and 75 million acres of hay - the peak acreage dedicated to biofuel production. We go back that direction and we end up with meat as a condiment - something's got to give somewhere in terms of grain production.

I am relatively new to farming with a 20 acre piece in Oregon, and I am all for having a little mechanical assistance with carrying the harvest, hauling compost, etc. However, it is modern agricultural practices such as plowing, fertilizing and bug spraying which is at the root of soil depletion. (sorry about the pun). The point is, if all we are doing is continuing as usual but with different equipment, then we haven't learned anything. I strongly recommend you watch the excellent BBC documentary called A Farm for the Future, if you have not seen it yet. Farming does not have to be drudgery, and maybe we don't have to destroy the Earth with it either.

plowing does not lead to soil loss unless you have either wind erosion or water erosion due to sloping that case there are well developed methods of reducung the losses-contour plowing,strip cropping that alternates corn and grass for example-that reduce the soil loss to next to nothing if skillfully used.nor does plowing reduce the organic content of soil in and of itself.the loss of organic content is usually due to harvesting nearly the entire plant,and removing it from the field ,which leaves an insufficient supply of organic material to be incorporated into the soil.the entire plant may be removed for various reasons ranging fron diseaseand pest control to sale of a secondary product.We remove all pruned limbs from our orchard, as well as all dropped fruit, to help control rats and various tree disesaes.our nieghbors who grow winter wheat used to leave the straw in the field, but nowadays they bale and sell it.

plowing does actually help improve the organic content of soil in a well designed cropping system,wherein some crops are grown specifically to help enrich the soil by being plowed under.rye is often planted for this purpose locally.furthermore plowing destroys a graet many harmful weed seeds by burying them too deep to emerge, and many insect eggs and larvae by exposing them to birds and freezing temperatures and is also extremely effective in suppressing the various weed plants that would otherwise smother your newly planted crop , depriving it of light, water, and nutrients.

it is nevertheless true that most of our soils are low in organic content, and that plowing combined with the application of herbicides and insectides can and does contribute mightily to this problem.plowing also means more trips across the field with heavy machinery, which compacts the soil, which in turn has reduces yields and contributes to increased runoff problems.futhermore plowing is a very expensive operation in terms of fuel , time and capital tied up in heavy machinery.

chemical fertilizers in and of themselves are not the cause of organic material deficiencies, but rather make do replacements for organics that are already in short may find it necessary to use commercial fertilizers ,hopefully in decreasing quantities, for a few years until you can restore your land to a more natural condition, if you wish to obtain useful yields in the meantime.
You may never be able to completely avoid the use of some pesticides uinless you ate willing to pay the price of losing a years crop which might be nearly ready to harvest.

i would suggest that you spend as much time as you can reading the thousands of wellresearched publications available online from our land grant universities in order to broaden your knowledge of soils and crop production.Most of my acquaintances who have tried throwing out the "old"industrial style methods of farming have found out too late that ther were some babies in all that bath water.

the new methods are great innovations in many respects,but they seem to work best when judiciously combined with some of the more traditional techniques on a case by case basis.and keep it in mind that while it is possible to run a small scale operation successfully using your nieghbors chicken litter and your other nieghbors horse droppings, there are not enough poultry farmers and horse enthusiasts around to alleviate the need for chemical fertilizers on the large scale.

please excuse my limited typing skills. boys weren't allowed to take typing back in the sixties and i an learning to hunt and peck as I go.


Yes boys were allowed to take typing for I took it in High School and that was in 1955. Best thing I ever did.

Your problem , my man, isn't with the typing its with the correct usage of 'white space'..meaning emptiness in order to allow the eyes and brains to make sense of the text on the white background.

As to the farming. Are you a farmer? Might I ask where?

My background is well known by most on TOD,except for newbies and I have expressed my views and experiences very often.

I grew up driving a three mule team,and of course a two mule team otherwise for some draft tools and wagons. My experiences vary considerably with the conjecture above as to what they must view as decencies with draft animals that I did not see or experience.

One example. We hitch up the team to a wagon to go out and gather our corn crop. The men walk along pulling the ears and pitching them in the wagon. The mules work by voice commands and no one is in the wagon holding the reins. Gee and Haw,,giddup and whoa work extremely well.

We would efficiently gather in the crop and haul it to the crib. Job done. Nothing to oil,grease,replace air filters,go buy fuel and so on. The tractors do not deposit valuable manure on the ground.

There are tradeoffs of course.But that was my experience and many here speak of the problems but not that many in my reading have had real experience with such.

Here is also this. Animals on a pasture imprint the hoofs into the soil. This creates a lot of small series of catchments for seed and water to collect in. If you spread seed onto the pasture yourself,versus it self-propgating, then the animals grazing will 'trample' the seed into the soil...and if you lightly run a harrow over the fields you break up the beneficial manure piles so that the benefits are spread and the sun destroys the parasite eggs in the manure. Very simple to do. Animals on a pasture are natures way. It works if many doesn't fool with it too much.

I would hate to run a 100 acre farm and not have grazing animals on it. Instead of destroying the soil they improve it.

In the future IMO when all this nonsense is blown out of the system and we have to go back to the land. There will be no big hurry to run all around the place like a headless chicken. We can return to a more natural rhythm. A more easy pace of life. Life I grew up with.

Some think that life on a farm back then was hard work and hell.
Yes it was work but so what? Today many pay to go walk or run on a treadmill. But it was a life of easy times as well as working long hours. You didn't work while it rained for instance. And in the winter you lived on what you stored up. Actually spring planting and fall harvest was the busy times. The rest was pretty laidback.

Airdale-this assumes of course good soil and not worn out junk. It assumes that you know soil and farms and buy wisely and the weather is not subzero nor tropical heat. I am talking of wise folk living on good land and tending it properly.


Could you come up with some references? I'm reading "Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations" by Geomorphologist David Montgomery right now, and I think he disagrees with you that plowing doesn't lead to soil loss by itself. Certainly wind and water erosion cause much faster soil loss, but just the act of exposing lower layers of soil to more oxygen and weathering breaks down soil. The author recommends no-till.

From the Publisher's Weekly review: "Montgomery proposes an agricultural revolution based on soil conservation. Instead of tilling the land and making it vulnerable to erosion, we should put organic matter back into the ground, simulating natural conditions."

"The author recommends no-till."

Well you then must understand that no-till is not just not plowing.

You have to have a spray coupe come in a do a 'burndown' of all the vegetation first before planting. Sometimes twice depending. A lot of bad chemicals. Stand downwind of one and see what happens to you. The operator is enclosed in a tight air conditioned environment. The rest of the world is not.

Then you will have to use roundup if your planting RR Corn or soybeans.
And if not that then a pre-emergence herbicide.

Then you usually have to spray midway thru the crop to clean up or else fast growing varieties of certain weeds will take it. Then if milo you must spray for insects. Webworms can take the whole crop in a very very short time.

Why is all this necessary? Because of monoculture and the spraying itself.

So when he says "" you need to go a bit further.

This sort of dis-information is where discussions without all data fails. Miserably.

We do a lot of no-till here. In fact Ky is credited with starting no-till to a large degree. We been doing it since I owned this farm,like near 30 yrs.

No-till does leave residue on the ground. You then have trashcolters to push it out of the way of the seed droppers. Yet the combine is what leaves the residues. Not the no-till planter. So anyone can leave debris on their fields...its called Farm Dirty.

One can plow without using a moldboard plow. You use a chisel plow. Most do. I use them to break up hardpans when necessary. Doesn't disturb the surface but a very little. Many leave the corn stalks cut off at the combine housing height and do not bushhog them down. This stops some wind and rain erosion. Yet many who should know better tend to have bare fields over winter.

There is a way to farm propertly and not destructively but for now? Its all about money and markets and 'take those trees down so they don't take my moisture and shade my corn'.

Airdale-you really don't trust those articles that have a hidden agenda do you? Or are marketing oriented by Big Ag or its cohorts.

"There is a way to farm properly and not destructively"

Care to elaborate? I'm no farmer, but those I've talked to say no-till does not necessitate heavy chemical usage, even though that's the way it is commonly done now.


I worked for the biggest ag chem outfit in my area a few years back.

I delivered those chemicals. Others drove the nurse trucks that held huge water tanks to supply the spray coupes.

There was no farmer doing no-till here that did not have to have those spray coupes on his fields multiple times.

You can believe me as one who has been invovled or some MSM dope or some slackjawed snuffy of a swag farmer in a local coffee shop offering BS continually.

Reality is reality.

If you do not 'burndown' all the weeds,grasses and other with chemicals before planting then what you have is nothing BUT WEEDS.

How do you propose to do otherwise?

Yes you could run disks over your fields. But the 'understory' of root systems are incredibily massive. Rhizomes you see. Johnson Grass galore.

At first glance it seems doable. At second glance you realize it was just a driveby opinion and not really gettting down 'in the dirt' opinion.

The tradeoffs for no-till are many. Yet it can be done possibly with better techniques but so far...nada.

I used a no-till seed planter to sow 60 acres of Orchard Grass and Kenland Red Clover after I threw the 'operators' off my land.

I had to kill off Johnson Grass that one could not walk thru and so high that standing on the hood of my diesel tractor I could not see over the tops of.

This was due to there applying just barely enough Roundup to cut back the growing Johnson Grass and not systemically killing off the understory rhizomes.



It's called minimum till. With rotational grazing in a small mixed farm. This model can farm virtually in perpetuity well maybe 500 year cycles before if the dominant sere was forest it should then be allowed to go back to forest for 300 years and then back again.

Airdale's comments are spot on about no-till, the only thing to add is that many of the broadleaf weeds are now herbicide resistant.
(Options like Will Stewarts no-till without the cides is very interesting like a mechanized Fukuoka idea)
In minimum till with a long rotation you get the benefit of 3-5 years of pasture then usually start into corn, then small grain with buckwheat oats and rye to cycle phosphorous before reseeding to hay (for several years then pasture for several more then back again). So you are looking at a 7-9 year rotation. With a wide diversity of livestock this is what sustainable farming is.

This keeps your organic matter levels high enough to avoid disease. Generally they must be higher than 3%.

By having smaller fields with larger fence rows then you can help prevent wind erosion and provide habitat for birds and other wildlife. Deciduous trees on the windward side will deposit leaves which help re-mineralize the soil

"I would hate to run a 100 acre farm and not have grazing animals on it. Instead of destroying the soil they improve it." This is Wendel Berry's idea as well and I agree.

Horses and horsepower also provides grazing services. This cannot be understated. Grazing grass builds topsoil.

Joel Sslatin from Polyface farms among others points out the benefit of creating eco-tones or edges. The best combination is field + forest + water source pond or wetland for supporting the greatest diversity of wildlife.

So trying to create eco-tones and wild life corridors to increase bio-diversity is a generalized goal. The opposite of mono-culture.

What's missing from agri-business is any trace of humility. We have a speck of knowledge about our bio-sphere and yet we think that glyphosphate (round-up)+ n.p.k. is a reasonable recipe for anything but failure. Higher organic matter levels provides more buffering or resiliency to drought.

Chemical fertilizer (ammonium nitrate)burns up organic matter levels in the soil and kills earthworms. It can help in certain applications as mentioned above until levels can be built up with green manures, and pasturing. But viewing chemical fertilizer as a viable long term solution for healthy animals and people is not sustainable, in the current idea of repeated tillage with chemicals. The moldbourd plow is not inherently bad. Getting air into the system is needed. It is excessive and irresponsible use of the plow, that does the damage.

If you want to see the way that farming can't continue doing then watch the movie 'The World According to Monsanto' and learn about how sustainable farming is under attack. Bill Hr-875 (u.s.) wrapped under the pretext of increasing food safety and security (And soothesayer sanctioned!) will allow them to hit small guys with specious hurdles (usually causing them to spend money to conform. The old game continues) that allows the big guys to get away with continued idiocy. Understand that HR-875 is the guvs attempt to implement the w.t.o's. codex alimentarus (food code)which came into play in February. (Furthermore they want to dictate that prescriptions for vitamins are required to sink the health food stores) How codex is implemented in e.u. to be guessed?
They want to make seed banking illegal. This is an abomination that we the small farmers of the world will fight.


You need to post more often on the subject of Ag.

I seem to be fighting a lone battle here on TOD regarding the 'reality' of what is happening in agriculuture. And what sustainable farming is about.

I think many here seem to swallow large amounts of ag prof stuff that are simply in bed with BigChem and BigSeed and so forth.


While plowing does incorporate crop residues into the soil where they are more likely to remain as beneficial organic matter, it also exposes existing organic matter to oxidation by bringing it up to the soil surface. A field kept in pasture -- and not cultivated -- will typically have much higher percentages of organic matter than the same field which is plowed for annual crops. This loss of soil organic matter through oxidation is actually one of the largest sources of CO2 into the atmosphere.

I have read that chemical fertilizers can encourage a rush of microbial action which will hasten the oxidation and consequent loss of organic matter, but I've also read that they can kill a lot of the microbes; I would guess both are true depending upon the fertilizer used, the microbe and the soil environ.

I think the future of mechanized farming lies with draft animals myself; they're easily powered by farm-grown fuel, self replicating, and "modular" in that you can size your team for the task at hand. They're also a good source of fertilizer.

Batteries are really an achilles heel for electric tractors; they're expensive, wear out relatively quickly, and have a high amount of embodied energy -- as do the tractors they would be used in. Retooling our entire agricultural system with expensive new electrical equipment in a time of financial shortages just doesn't look likely to me.

I think the future of mechanized farming lies with draft animals myself; they're easily powered by farm-grown fuel, self replicating, and "modular" in that you can size your team for the task at hand. They're also a good source of fertilizer.

There's lots of things to consider, consider Cuba as exhibit A. You have the lower output of the oxen and their feed requirements as negatives, but then you have to figure in the productive capacity of society and energy required to keep you in farm equipment that requires fuel.

If you have a small farm and you get a decent price for produce post-peak, you can take on debt and purchase the new electric tractors on the market, or you can divert a couple of steers from the food supply and train them as oxen. The decision may not always be a slam dunk in favor of mechanized traction.

Very interesting article, but I suspect most food will eventually be grown within cities by the populace rather than on far-flung farms running novel equipment like this. I base this view on the existence of highly productive systems using subsurface irrigation techniques.

Vegetable bed using self-watering or wicking technology

Subsurface irrigation has huge advantages:

  1. Only a fraction of the water is used than would otherwise be used in a normal irrigation system. Theoretically, this means everyone could grow more food with less water.
  2. Because the system is closed at the bottom, water and nutrients do not leach away.
  3. Roots are always hydrated to just the right extent.
  4. Since water does not sit in the upper profile of the soil, there is no evaporative loss.
  5. No need to plant winter crops to hold the nutrients in the upper layers of soil.
  6. With the inclusion of a shade-house system, there are no insect and bird problems, and overharsh sun damage and much wind damage largely obviated.

People using this system are able to feed themselves and their partners in terms of vegetables within the 20sqm used for one shade house (see below), vs the 2000-4000sqm (0.5-1ac) that people like Steve Solomon say you will require in his book Growing Vegetables when it Counts

Simple, cheap Shade House to stop birds and insects


Shade House construction (PDF file)

Wicking Bed construction (PDF file)

Thanks for the links Mamba. Guess what I'm doing this weekend?

Could you use grey water (bath and shower) for the wicking beds. We are on severe water restrictiosn here in Southern NSW but we can use grey water for the garden. Would your beds filter it enough before it got to edible plants?

Could you use grey water (bath and shower) for the wicking beds.

I wouldn't. This is a closed system. The water needs are so much lower than for conventional irrigation that fresh, clean water should not be a problem. It can be weeks between waterings!

Also grey water by nature is full of particulates that can quickly clog up systems where the water has to leak out of small holes slowly.

This is very interesting. I agree that in future most food will have to be produced very close to the point of consumption. However, there will still be a need for short-haul goods transport, and a need for transport and power for the myriad of tasks performed around horticultural and pastoral farms.

I followed your link to the Steven Solomon book. It looks like a selection from the techniques outlined by John Jeavons (or maybe Jeavons extended Solomon's work; I don't know who has priority). Solomon appears to have a greater emphasis on resilience and less emphasis on intensity of production than does Jeavons.

Do you have a reference (link) for the statement that enough vegetables for two adults can be grown in 20 square metres? Reliably meeting total caloric needs in that small a space would be truly revolutionary -- the best I've heard of so far was a man who fed his family of 2 adults and 3 teenagers from a quarter acre, less a 1200 sq ft house - approximately 900 square metres. That was on town supply water in a maritime climate, so he could ignore the possibility of drought.

Do you have a reference (link) for the statement that enough vegetables for two adults can be grown in 20 square metres?

See the linked PDF files in my original post above. It won't take care of all calories, but for vegetable needs. Several of them would be more than enough for a small family's needs.

You need to reread S. Solomons Gardening When It Counts for I think those garden sizes are way off.

He is rather abrupt about the ability of subruban garden sizes being sufficient.

Its nice to be able to think one can stay in his house in the burbs and live sustainably....but I don't see it and neither do many others who look at it and examine it closely...such as Solomon.


Oh, the 900 sq m was not sustainable -- plenty of inputs were brought on from off-site, both organic and inorganic. Which is kind of my point.

I might look at Solomon if I can find it in the library, but it's not that relevant to me, living as I do in a mild maritime (=wet) climate in an area with good soils -- and in an apartment in the middle of town ;-).

Solomon likes to say that his system requires no irrigation, etc. I don't see that as useful for townfolk. They don't have acres of space like he does in Tasmania.

I suggest you peruse the sites

You'll find more on this concept there.

Yes, the soil will need conditioning with "outside inputs". But since the system is CLOSED, the inputs are a fraction of what would be required on broadacre farming, and in fact you have to be careful not to over-feed the soil. I am planning to buy enough organic minerals and fertilisers to last a lifetime of such farming, as well as maintaining compost heaps from locally scythed grasses and chicken manure.

There will possibly be a good market for such machines a few years down the road when batteries are hopefully cheaper and more durable in terms of real money.For the time being,I find it hard to see how it could could compete on an American farm for several reasons.The most important one is that it is unable to do the heavy work currently done almost exclusively with diesel powered tractors which last for many many years with very few serious breakdowns as a rule if well maintained.Since we already have tese on hand, they can also be used to do the minor jobs such as hauling a few of bales of hay or a few hundred pounds of fertilizer for nearly nothing, barring a few more pints of diesel.
On the other hand,we use a small utility style Honda 4 wheeler on our farm to run a lot of errands and take care of small chores bringing in a couple of bushels of peaches from the orchard or hauling hand tools out to cut firewood.I can ride it hard all day over rough ground on less than two gallons of regular, and we expect it to last 20 years.
We can run the 6 foot rotary mower that goes on our 35 hp tractor and "bushhog" 6 acres of orchard with less than 10 gallons of diesel. We mow only twice a year, so the grass is kneehigh and very dense.I expect the price of batteries will have to come down by at least an order of magnitude for us to give up our diesels,at least insofar as the big jobs are concerned.I doubt that will happen within my working lifetime.
I am nevertheless doing a lot of thinking about how we can operate if the price of diesel goes up by an order of magnitude;but if that does happen we will still be able to grow food at costs competetive with using horses,if we can get parts,etc-at least until the time comes when we must replace our equipment. New equipment will probably also cost more by a factor or 5 or ten under such a scenario.A horse might look like a bargain again by then, if you could buy one, even though it must be fed every day,working or not.The only time I ever found the tank empty on my tractor after filling it and not driving it ,some body siphoned the fuel when we left it out in the orchard.And if diesel prices do skyrocket, we can produce enough biodiesel to get by on the farm at least.I sort of doubt that we will be able to deliver soda pop and potato chips with biodiesel- most likely it would have to be be rationed and used to haul flour and beans mostly.
We really need to figure out a way to convince the politicians to get war time serious about energy efficiency,outright conservation,and nuclear power in particular in my estimation.It would also be just fine by me if we spent ten times as much on research that just might turn up a majic bullet solar cell or a bug capable of devouring sewage sewage and exhaling methane on the grand scale,leaving a good clean sludge still rich in phosphorus, potassium,nitrogen and trace elements which could be safely used any where somebody wants to grow a tomato plant.

or a bug capable of devouring sewage sewage and exhaling methane on the grand scale,leaving a good clean sludge still rich in phosphorus, potassium,nitrogen and trace elements which could be safely used any where somebody wants to grow a tomato plant.

Old Farmer Mac, this has been around for a long time - ordinary anaerobic bacteria do this in sewage treatment plants around the world. The methane is used to generate electricity to drive the machinery that operates the plant - in the UK at least it's not normally quite enough, though I believe some of the newer plants do produce surplus energy to export. I suppose what you're hoping is that new strains of bacteria could be developed that could squeeze more carbon out, to make more CH4. The limiting factor would be the carbon/nitrogen ratio of the sewage - the little guys need that nitrogen to do their thing. The other problem is that in urban/industrial areas the sewage is polluted with all manner of toxic materials, so the residues are also polluted, and unsuitable for application to food-producing crops. Biogas plants using farm waste and clean municipal food/garden waste are quite common in Europe, where government subsidies are available, eg in Germany. Without subsidy, they are a no go so far.

"....biofuels. But that is not a very good idea unless we can develop some new and much more efficient way of making biofuels. In their present form, biofuels need too much land, need artificial fertilizer and, more than all, are in competition with food production."

I see great value in exploring how efficient electric tractors can be employed in farming but I don't think biofuels can be dismissed as you have. Farming only uses 1% of oil use, sure biofuels cannot replace 100% of oil, but biofuels are more than adequate to power all farm tractors.
In the US farming uses approximately 9 million gallons of diesel and gasoline/day, while a small part of agriculture produces 14million gallons of ethanol/day( about the same energy content). Biofuels are only competing with food crops if farming is operating at 100% capacity. Usually prices are too low for this so some land is idle or lower inputs are used or some land is set-aside.
Although biofuels are inefficient, they can replace diesel and gasoline used by other vehicles, saving oil and thus allow today's machinery to be used in farming. The refineries can run on electricity, the fertilizer can be manufactured using electricity.

The vehicle pictured looks like a golf cart with mud and snow tires to me. Those tiny wheels won't pull anything and try filling that dump box with manure and drive out in the field and see what happens. The cows will be rolling in laughter as the whole thing sinks into the ground and the wheels spin up dirt.

It can do very little actual farm work, at least on my farm. Field work and other tractor type tasks in the Post Peak Oil world will be done with biofuels. Biodiesel mostly but also ethanol to run pickup trucks.

This is already happening on farms around here. IMO electrically powered tractors will never happen. It's like pulling teeth to get an electrically powered car that can go more than a few miles at low speeds on the market. Farmers around here would laugh at an electrically powered tractor and for sure none would buy it. Why should any farmer go though the trouble of that power source when he grows soybeans for biodiesel and corn for ethanol?

Farmers are not that stupid. To me the idea that the vehicle pictured is a farm vehicle has got to be a joke.

The cows will be rolling in laughter as the whole thing sinks into the ground and the wheels spin up dirt.

Maybe you need to put those cows out to pasture and rethink what it means to farm? ;-)

The only thing missing from this diagram are the cricket cages.

Do the world a favor and get rid of the cows. Go veggie and save the planet.

I beg to differ on that account; livestock *raised correctly* are grown on pasture. Pasture is much better for the planet (at far as climate change is concerned) than land which is constantly plowed for annual crops.

If you're arguing against cows raised as they currently are -- in grain fed CAFO operations -- then I agree completely.

Vegetarian - noun; Old Indian word meaning "lousy hunter".

Have you ever seen the old Far Side cartoon of the cavemen hunters returning from the hunt and jointly carrying a huge carrot.

The caption is "Early Vegetarians", right?


"IMO electrically powered tractors will never happen...."

Do you read the other comments, X, or just post what you've decided to be true? There are links to a number of 'real tractors' that have been electrified, and are shown and described working in the fields for years with great results and very little maintenance..

Quick 2007 Update: Several Dozen of these tractors have been built recently and people seem really happy with them. I have to say even after all these years, I can't imagine farming without them! We put a lot of hours on them and they haven't broken down (see my new note on the parts page) and the batteries still seem fine. Prices have gone up by quite a bit for some of the parts, but you also "get more" -again see my notes on the parts page.

Jan 2009 Update: LOTS more of the tractors have been made. I'm kind of blown away by how popular they got in 2008! Herman Niekamp is the machinist that we write about in these pages and last year he created his page with more pictures and by far the most up-to-date information on what's happening with the G's. He sells kits that make it easy to do this conversion yourself (you will still need the pictures and instructions on these pages, but his work eliminates 100% of the "hard parts" of doing the conversion - I write about it in these pages, too, but you might want to check out his web page for more information!!!

"... It's like pulling teeth to get an electrically powered car that can go more than a few miles at low speeds on the market."

The RAV4-EV's from 2001-2 are able to go 70mph, and get from 80-120 miles per charge.
Unless the theories about Chevron holding the NIMH Patents are true, I can't imagine why this success has not been more known and repeated. But the testimonials are pretty clear.

If you've got real laughing cows, though, you might be able to sell tickets!

If x hails from corn country as he claims, he has every right to be skeptical, some of those farms have to be seen to be believed. As far as the eye can see is no understatement.
Of course it remains to be seen if farms of this size will be going concerns as FF become scarce, still it makes his viewpoint more understandable.
Ugo stresses in the article that the vehicle pictured is for light agricultural work, not heavy plowing. Ethanol can powered most farm equipment with little modification.
The farmers I know speak of the weather and their timing of weather being the difference in successful, profitable seasons or not.
When the weather cooperates the window of opportunity may be small, waiting for batteries to recharge using pv(good, sunny weather) equates to narrowing of that window further. Swapping out battery packs could answer that but the high cost of the packs is noted above as well.
Plus many of the farmers I know work at other jobs to make ends meet and that reduces the window of opportunity even more.
All in all, x's pro ethanol stance has many advantages over EV's in ag applications.

All well and good.
I wouldn't ask any farmer to put all their eggs in one basket.. tho' of course I wish they didn't put all their fields in one crop, either.. but I've been told how that monster has been created.

I'm sure there needs to be a variety of tools at different scales, and different ways to power them.. and the Mega-farms of Iowa may be running on grid-power and bio-diesel, if they manage to remain as huge as they are today. The Steve Heckeroth page above, or one of his anyways, ( ) has him drag a pallette with Solar PV and a spare Battery out to the edge of the field where he's working.. picks up a spare pack at the rear where the old spare chunk of granite Traction weight would go. [I'm not seeing it at this link.. it's out there, somewhere]


.. you know, thinking about it, he might have said he has TWO Electric tractors, and just has one charging while he works with the other one.

Take it easy "X". The tractor was not built by people who don't know anything about agriculture. It is very similar to a conventional agricultural truck built and marketed by OELLE in southern Italy. OELLE has been making agricultural equipment for 30 years. Farmers like that kind of vehicle and if you visit the agricultural areas south of Naples you'll see plenty of OELLE vehicles running around. So, cows don't roll in laughter here. Then, there arw may ways to make a vehicle. There will be other models, with different features.


As a next step, may I suggest approaching the lithuim ion manufacturers for a lithium battery for 'testing' on the vehicle. Put the heavy lead acid batteries from the vehicle in with others and add a few small, say 3kW or 5kW wind turbines. You already have the batteries and therefore no network providers to deal with. I appreciate that Lebenon does not have much wind, but turbines tend be cheap (compared to PV) AND provide power at times not necessarily sunny. They would be a definate help.

I like the utility wehicle design, almost all farmers has a need for a small supporting wehicle that can take a passanger and few hundred kilos of load.


Very interesting. I get your concept for a farm utility vehicle for orchard (olive tree work) as I have lived in Greece and can see that it would be usefull and practical there.

For my needs (I operate a small organic farm) such a vehicle would need to be capable of the following: running a tiller (30-36 inch wide), a spader, cultivators, seeders, a small bucket, plulling wagons, running mowers, etc. All on a scale to support up to 5 acres of intense vegetable cropping.

Modifications to your machine that I can quickly see as needed would be: Ag tires for traction (the tractor is plenty heavy enough already), higher ground clerance, hydralics for the bucket and 3 point if not already installed, ability to adjust wheel width to fit row spacings (to avoiid ever driving on crop beds), a front mount to hold tool bars for culitivators, etc.

Nice start. It is getting light so I have to do my greenhouse work.


The hydraulics are already installed. About tires, yes, we received several comments that they are too small. We'll probably have to redesign something but there are limits on that: the vehicle has to remain stable when running on slopes. But, yes, we move on.

Great article, Ugo. I've seen many similar sized farm vehicles in Italy, so such a replacement is certainly valid for many farming operations.

I'd like to mention organic no-till planting practices (i.e., no Roundup) that do not impose high energy requirements on tractors, making electric tractors viable replacements. The field is never left bare, but either is growing food crops or has a cover crop to provide nutrient enrichment to the soil. The cover crops are crushed at food crop planting time, and it becomes mulch that greatly slows evaporation and suppresses weeds. Rolling and planting can be made in one pass. Fields are rotated between grains and legumes to ensure a proper soil balance.

The cover crop is rolled flat, killing it and turning it into mulch.

The food crop is planted in the same pass.

I've been wondering if by using these sorts of methods, which don't involve much pulling of blades through soil, the work load is lessened enough to permit an electric tractor to cover the kind of ground that modest farms have, e.g., 50-200 acres.

I think it would be useful to study the comparative ag mechanics involved to try to answer that questions theoretically, at least for now.

I'm not a tractor farmer, but I'm sure a lot also depends on the type of implements used to harvest the crops. One would have to take empirical measurements to best determine the average and maximum force required.

Maybe using the electric equipment at a different point in the growing cycle could be considered. I grew a half acre or so of wheat and harvested it with a scythe. Cutting it with a scythe was easy enough and went pretty fast - the really hard part was the thrashing. So perhaps if the original field prep and planting was done with diesel, the cutting with a scythe and the thrashing with some sort of electric powered gadget there would be an overall reduction of fossil fuel use.

Thanks for this. I had heard that no-till farming need not be high-poison farming, but I couldn't figure out how it was done. Is there really no problem with leaving all that cover crop on top of the soil?

You can read all about it and even see a video at

I've tried this method myself in my raised bed garden and it works well for transplants and large seeded crops.
The site Will links to used to offer plans for making a manual crimper, similar to the boards made by "crop circle" purveyors.

Remember that the seed for cover cropping this way needs to be grown and harvested as well and requires additional land and cost to be factored in if "sustainability" is a concern and when is it not?

(Edit) I forgot to add that slugs were more of a problem using this method than my normal double-digging, compost ammended soil.

One option for powering farm vehicles is to fit them with gassifiers, burning crop waste directly as a fuel. Basically, carbonaceous wastes are partially burned within the gassifier to produce a syngas rich in hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This feeds directly into an engine, where it combusts.

Gassifiers are finicky and unreliable, but provide a means of adapting existing vehicles to locally available fuels. They are a technology that can be made locally by lightly skilled people equipped with a modest workshop. On most farms, there is more than enough waste material available to power equipmentr in this way.

Another alternative for farm activities is direct electric. Basically, you power your tractor with a cable connected to the mains. A cable drum winds/unwinds the cable as the tractor moves along the field.

I have been looking into gasifiers for some time and plan to build one in the next year or so if time permits.You can find lots of articles about them, but very little actual information based on hands on experience.The little I have found all seems to be based upon the plans published by the feds so farmers can build one in the event of a no fuel emergency.They were built by the thousands in Europe during WW2 but amazingly none at all seemed to have survived.

As far as I can tell, if you want to build one,you will need to be a competent plumber and welder, as well as a talented artificer, and you will need at least the equivalent of a well equipped farm shop or automotive garage to do it unless you can farm out some of the work. you will also need a suitable vehicle. Apparently the most suitable light trucks would be older American models with "granny gear" 4 speeds and big engines, since they came with simple carbureted low speed engines and no electronics.You will need the big engine because hp will be off substantially.High speed computer controlled fuel injected engines are going to be very hard to convert to gasifier and could probably only be done at great expense in custom made parts above and beyond the gasifier itself.Converting a diesel is probably a job best left to a machine shop specializing in engine work and will be very expensive.

An older gasoline powered tractor should be relatively easy to convert.

If anyone can supply links to people actually doing homemade gasifiers,as opposed to just blogging about them, I would be grateful.

I can help you with your research.

I recently bought one of these. $2,400. At the moment it sits in my living room nearly assembled. Kind of cute. Clunky espresso machine. You can read the reports of others regarding it's operation. I haven't fired mine up yet and it is a tempermental process. You can't just throw any old kind of "waste" into it. Since I have a very large amount of wood that needs chipping or disposing of in some way I thought it would be a great idea to use it to make electricity. Project ongoing.

People do run cars and trucks on wood gas, some a lot more effectively than others. We're sort of a backwoods bunch, no dept of energy grants or big headline hype. The tech is simple but the mechanics still need a lot of tinkering. The most experienced people yack on a Yahoo list. You need to sign up to read the messages.

Crop "waste" isn't crop waste -- if you keep burning it, your soil and crops will soon be gone. Organic matter -- from crop "waste" is probably the single most important component of good agricultural soils.

'Crop "waste" isn't crop waste.' This is too often forgotten, ignored, denied. Not just crop waste, but forest "waste", and just about any kind of waste, such as sewage. Instead of making humanure, it goes to sewage treatment, generates methane which is burnt to drive the treatment plant (see my earlier comment), and then, because it's usually mixed with other toxic waste, the residue is often incinerated instead of being returned to the land. Regardless of the issue of CO2 global warming, the best place to store carbon is in the soil.

True enough, but let's not go to extremes and condemn humans for using fire! That's all we're doing with our tractors and biomass generators, after all: taming fire, increasing the utility of the energy released.
So long as we don't go crazy and burn up most or all of the "waste" biomass, modern mechanized farming can be a lot less destructive than more traditional means, like swidden.

As with everything else we need to be thinking completely new paradigms for agriculture. Small scale, local, vegetable gardens, permaculture, hydroponics and aquaponics, and probably raising insects for protein.

The industrial farming techniques that depend on heavy fossil fuel based machinery are simply not going to be viable any longer. Monoculture of grains such as corn to be used as feed for cattle, chickens and pigs is a profoundly inefficient way to feed 6.5 billion people.

It takes about 836 gallons of water to produce a third of a pound of beef hamburger compared to the quantity of water in moist paper towel for a third of a pound of protein from crickets. It's a no brainer.

Small electric tractors probably make sense within the context of these new forms of food production.
It's not that we lack new ideas that might solve our problems it's that everyone seems to be stuck in the past and wants desperately to stay there. Sorry folks that just ain't going to work!

The Monsanto's, GM's and AIG's are dinosaurs of the past and they are in their death throes as we speak we need to let them die and go extinct. If we don't we too will go the way of the Dodo bird.

It takes about 836 gallons of water to produce a third of a pound of beef

What happens to the 836 gallons? Does it leave the planet (helping to reverse the rising oceans)? Does it permanently convert into some other compound? Or more likely pump back into a river or blow off as steam. In what way is water not a renewable resource?

Hi Ugo
A nice start and a lot of good work - a sprayer like that could be useful in many intensive (fruit / vines) situations.
For extensive heavy cultivation, EVs do not appear obvious.
(I think I have checked comments, but forgive me if somebody has already offered the following.)
Heavy plowing was done by steam/cable for a while, and I wonder if electrical power could be applied to a similar system, instead of steam?

The steam engine stands on the headland and hauls the implement to and fro by means of a wire rope. All treading and compression of the soil and sub-soil associated with horse cultivation is thereby entirely avoided and the implement is driven at a much more rapid pace, throwing up the soil to a greater depth and in a loose state enabling it to derive full benefit from the influences of the atmosphere.

You could run an electric cable down one side of the field (between a couple of wind turbines?) and move your motor along it so you could cover the entire field. It would probably be fairly easy to get a robot to do it, a hefty crawling unit at end with the wire running across the field.

You could power an electric tractor with an pantograph like a trolley bus, with temporary electric cables running overhead in the field. Should be much cheaper than battery electric tractor

Yes, it can be done and it can be done in the 1930s. I saw pictures of tractors running on overhead cables on the internet, but I can't find that site any more. But it may be the way to go for heavy work.

Are tractors even necessary? Many people recently have been experimenting with no-till agriculture, which Masanobu Fukuoka of Japan started doing about fifty years ago. He found that continuous disruption of the top layer of soil caused a steady decline of fertility, while maintaining a healthy top layer of soil maintained and increased fertility. The result was super-high crop yields without tilling, fertilizer, or fallow periods.

For the past three thousand years or so, farmers have found that fertility declines under constant tilling. That's why they had to leave fields fallow to regain some fertility. However, nature itself never suffers a decline in fertility.

Tractors are necessary for no till. It takes an amount of horsepower to pull a no till planter or drill through a field. I have never seen any reliable numbers for horsepower per row. I have seen a 100 horsepower tractor unable to pull 4 rows through extremely wet clay. That is a very extreme example and the field was far too wet to plant. To successfully no till the planter or drill needs to be heavy to cut through the crop residue and soil and that takes horsepower and traction.


My farming buddy uses a 225 hp front end asssist tractor to pull his 32 row planter. Planter can do no-till or normal planting. Has seed boxes but some use air-planters. Seed boxes give you some options.

Bottom land, hill land or creek bottom land. It does it all. Something smaller and you are then into a smaller planter. Dual rears usually.

This is why I say 'The Land of the Big Machines' and I have seen far far larger tractors hereabouts. Some with duals front and rear.


I believe your first error is to your statement(paraphrased) that the only reason diesel powered vehicles are so dominant in agriculture is the historically low price of fossil fuels.
An even bigger reason is "energy density". With an ICE and liquid fossil fuels there can be a tremendous amount of work done per fill. Even the best batteries can not compete on energy density and that comes from the chemistry of batteries.

I believe that your second error is to misunderstand the generation of biofuels. I do not see an essential difference if land is used to produce biodiesel or fodder for draft animals. In either case the P and K can be recycled as there will be minimal P or K in the biodiesel and none in ethanol. Historically the numbers I have indicate that the area I lived in used about 20% of the arable land to produce feed for draft animals. Using 20% of the arable land for biodiesel should provide plenty of fuel for agricultural operations though I do not have time this morning to do an exact calculation.

My comments would have been much more negative until I read your design criteria for use on an Olive farm in Lebanon. For that it will work. One of my major concerns especially after reading the posted comments is that too many people with no direct agricultural experience will not understand the limitations of this vehicle and efforts will be directed to electric battery operated vehicles as "the solution to power agriculture".

One other key point is the cost to manufacture solar panels.
How does that stack up against the cost of diesel?
And, what fuel will be used to manufacture the solar panels?

Solar Panels replace their embodied (mfr and materials) energy in 2-4 years, and keep producing power over 25-30, by most accounts. Many of the processes could be done with electricity, so wind/hydro/solar power can play a significant role in their manufacture.

It doesn't need to stack up against today's price of Diesel. It needs to stack up against tomorrow's Price AND Availability of diesel.

"Solar Panels replace their embodied (mfr and materials) energy in 2-4 years, and keep producing power over 25-30, by most accounts. Many of the processes could be done with electricity, so wind/hydro/solar power can play a significant role in their manufacture."

I would cast doubt on that figure, can you give me a source?

The reason is, the role that fossil fuels play to subsidize the manufacturing process of solar panels and wind turbines. For instance, fossil fuels enable high energy densities, and therefore high production volumes in a factory. However, I don't see how a renewable energy source with a magnitude larger infrastructure footprint and a magnitude lower energy density can provide the same services at the same volumes and flows...

This report is from '05, but I have only heard that mfr processes and PV efficiencies have been improving, so I don't have any reason to believe the data are off, unless in an even more favorable direction.

That said, I haven't seen much on the life expectancy and production curves of the thin-film PV, which one might expect to be less durable, and so who knows how long those will last, but their Embedded energy Payback of 1 year gives them a good head start. Germany and a couple US producers are getting recycling systems underway as well, so 2gen Panels might have significantly less energy in their MFG.

Energy payback estimates for rooftop PV systems are 4, 3, 2,
and 1 years: 4 years for systems using current multicrystalline-
silicon PV modules, 3 years for current thin-film modules,
2 years for anticipated multicrystalline modules, and
1 year for anticipated thin-film modules (see Figure 1).
With energy paybacks of 1 to 4 years and assumed life
expectancies of 30 years, 87% to 97% of the energy that
PV systems generate won’t be plagued by pollution, greenhouse
gases, and depletion of resources.

Based on models and real data, the idea that PV cannot pay back
its energy investment is simply a myth. Indeed, researchers Dones
and Frischknecht found that PV-systems fabrication and fossilfuel
energy production have similar energy payback periods
(including costs for mining, transportation, refining, and


re: your final point..

Noone is promising 'the same services at the same volumes and flows'.. (or whoever is, I would say is wrong.)

We have areas with high levels of concentrated renewable energy supply, like Hydro at Niagara Falls, etc. We could establish high priority MFG processes in such locations, where electricity can provide process heat and many of the other energy requirements of production. I don't know what particular bottlenecks might be out there for PV in terms of materials or processes that cannot be done without oil, or simply won't make sense practically/economically.. but I do believe that this tech is proving itself in enough ways today that we would be well served to keep its factories in our arsenal, perhaps at the expense of a few thousand LCD or Plasma Factories.


Great thoughts! I completely agree, however I think the way renewable energy is thought of and portrayed in the main stream media, and the average persons minds, id disagree. I think most people, are unaware of the volume and flows type issues are going to feel betrayed by government, industry and the like when they find renewable quite inadequate to support many of or modern ways of life and standards of living, to the point of civil unrest, I'm not sure, but I wouldn't bet against it.

"I think most people, are unaware of the volume and flows.. "

I agree completely.. It's an understandable illusion of most people's, as we have had SO much energy at our disposal .. but for now, it might be convenient as long as it gets those factories started up, and the base stockpile of PV established while we've got the power to initiate it at speed.

Dispelling people's energy illusions on the grand-scale is less important (largely because it is less achievable) than getting the right tools in place. It's like the Climate argument. We can't wait for a full consensus to act on tasks that we already know are essential.

While PV is a high-tech manufactured item, the basic PV cell is essentially just 'A Diode' .. a panel is a bunch of Diodes, an Array is a bunch of Panels. That level of simplicity seems to me to be a simple enough level of high-tech to bank on, (to some To-Be-Determined extent, but more than now..). The other main way of getting current is to move wire-coils through a magnetic field. It is also very dependable, but involves moving parts and a few stages of interface between a motion source, heat source, pressure source.. and the Generator Armature.. PV is so simple, it would be foolish to undercut that option.

Hold on to your math hat here.....
If I pay $50,000 for a solar system for my house to replace the current electricity costs of $2,500 per year, that means that the payback is 20 years.
Without abundant fossil fuels to process all the metals and chemicals, and transport the materials, etc. Solar panels would cost 10 times as much as they do now. So, how can we get power in the future at today's cost?

One, you don't necessarily get to replace ALL your current electrical 'need' with PV.. You might only be getting a $10,000 setup and then figure out how to reduce your usage by 80%.. A lot more savings that way, too.

We don't know how much more they'll cost tomorrow. That's why I say we need to be building and buying them today, at prices many will whine incessantly about, but which I propose are astoundingly cheap, considering what it does, and for how long, without moving parts, and in a slim, portable and convenient form.

Put it in light, and you get electric power! With that power, You can cook, refrigerate, freeze, send an email or radio message, drill holes in a piece of steel, drive to the grocery store, solder a bad connection, iron a shirt, have some light to get the dishes washed before bed, pump well water, charge a walkie talkie, grind some meal, sew a dress, chainsaw some firewood, run a dialysis machine or an ultrasonic cleanser, sterilize water, incubate chicks, run grow-lights to extend your greenhouse 'daylight hours', pump up a truck tire, create a spreadsheet, shoot a video, drive a winch, drive a forklift, run milking machines, spin a centrifuge.. etc.. There is just an amazing array of applications for electrical power, from light and nimble signalling and 'logic' applications, to brute force and high heat/pressure uses. PV offers quick and simple access to that. Just not 'dirt cheap'.. but what do you expect?

(ps, you were talking about Money Payback, but your initial message was inclined towards having the energy resource to justify making solar panels. But in any case, what other investment even starts to pay for itself like this? Most things that give power you have to keep refueling, oiling, buying parts for.. constant additional costs.)

Everything I have learned of pre-fossil fuel agriculture indicated that about 30% of crop land was used to provide hay & oats for draft animals, 30% was used for pasture & hay/grains for other livestock and 30% for raising grains for sale.
Currently, I think 10%-20% of crop land could supply all the biofuels (mostly biodiesel) to operate the entire farm including heating the house and other buildings and crop drying. The larger farms have an advantage in that there are a lot of "fixed" needs for fuels (example- home heating) and so the fixed needs take a smaller percentage of crop land to supply the fuel compared to a smaller farm.
I have to wonder what percentage of the olive oil would need to be converted to biodiesel (transesterification)to run existing available diesel powered vehicles with a whole lot less cost and complications and with better performance?
The reason modern farmers use the very large tractors and combines is that they require less fuel per acre of work than using smaller tractors. Remember, farmers aren't dumb. If using smaller tractors and combines would save them money then that is what they would be using.
The fallacy that getting rid of "big agriculture" will allow you to continue to use 100% of the land for food or that it was ever possible to use 100% of the land to grow food needs to come to an end.
Biodiesel which is made on the farm from oilseed crops that are grown on the farm and the oil pressed from the seeds on the farm will be the long term future long after the last drop of petroleum diesel is burned.
Fertilizer will be "grown" on the farm by returning to the practice of raising (on pasture) livestock and using the manure to fertilize the acres with grain crops. Plus growing "green manure" crops that can be plowed down.
These methods will be supplemented by ammonia (nitrogen) produced from "stranded electricity" from wind farms. (This is being done right now in Iowa USA).
Big agriculture is here to stay, but it will change a bit and wind up looking more like the old days with more farm diversification on each farm. And we will return to the old days of only 1/3 to 1/2 of the tillable land being used to produce grain crops. And this is the thing that is going to cause widespread hunger in the entire world and make it impossible to continue to support the 6+ billion presently living on this world.
The statement that a good part of the current food supply is oil is very true and when that oil is no longer available then that part of the food supply directly accountable to oil will disappear also. Death by starvation for billions of people is probably only 30-50 years away and very possibly much sooner depending on above ground oil factors, water shortages, climate changes, etc.....
If you put 600 cows on a pasture capable of growing enough grass to feed only 100, then all 600 cows will die as they will eat all the grass and so pollute the land that no grass can/will grow on it for a long time. The only long term solution is to get rid of 500+ of those cows before they destroy the land completely. And if you bring in hay (energy from space?) from the outside then the cows will die from thirst because there is not enough water to supply them all. The only real solution is to reduce the herd to a sustainable level - and that level is not bare starvation level, it is the level where the cows have enough food, water and land to stay healthy and grow to their maximum capability in decent comfort.

"The only real solution is to reduce the herd"

In other words, we will have to eat far less meat. How much can a great reduction in meat eating alleviate the mass starvation you (I think rightly) predict?

30% of crop land was used to provide hay & oats for draft animals

Well, yes, probably, but the historical data for that was at time when many draft animals were used outside of agriculture. Cuba did remarkably well with oxen (not exclusively, they still had/used tractors), there are lots of variables to consider when making claims of draft animals vs machinary. Tractors are more productive than animals obviously, but there are wide ranges of farm sizes under the plow. In a situation where the ecomomy isn't booming and isn't expected to anytime soon, I can see where draft animals on smaller scale farms can make sense.

If you can picture yourself in Cuba in 1993 with a small farm, you have a tractor but fuel is hard to come by and you have a flat tire that needs fixing plus the tractor is old and is overdue for preventative maintenance. At some point draft animals start making sense for small farms. Most small farms have enough land at the edges of fields, waterways, steeply sloped land, boundrys of woodlands etc. (land that can't easily be put to productive use) to feed a team of oxen. I can see many plausible situations post peak where draft animals start looking attractive; there's no reason they can't perform a complementary role to mechanized agriculture in many situations.

It's just wonderful that sooooo much time and energy was wasted in putting this thing together. JEEP did this over 50 years ago. All that is needed is to convert to electric for about $5K. Techno droids attack again.

Check it out. Technology is killing us all. Just stop, and plant a tree.

Agreed about jeep. Dad knew of one farmer (before my time) who used a wwII surplus jeep as a tractor quite successfully. At that time we were farming 120 acres of heavy clay with an 18 hp Ford 8N, two Percherons and 4 schoolage kids (3 yr rotation cereals, hay, pasture. 10 acres intensive vegetables like potatoes and sweet corn).

I'd also note that a university study in Quebec has proven that in heavy clays, mouldboard plowing vs. no-till practice leaves no difference in carbon content of top 30 cm of soil. All previous studies which claimed better for no-till were in error because they failed to evaluate the soil deep enough. (With tilling, crop roots go deeper).


I have a jeep. I use it sometimes to pull a small trailalong disc thru my garden. Works ok. If I will use FF then I opt for my smallish 20 hp or so tractor with lots of attachment points and even a 3 point hitch I made up.

But about all you can do is use trailing equipment. No hitches. Three point or two point or even the old one point.


Using a Computer to tell people they are wasting their time on a technology which can help plant a lot of trees and not put more fumes into the air.

That jeep burned gas.. I bet it would make a great electric conversion, though. Then you might have something.

That's really cool. I've been thinking about maybe replacing some of the vehicles on my ranch. I'll definitely give that Jeep-conversion a hard look! Anything that helps reduce my carbon footprint is a good thing. Climate change is out of control and my garden will prove that...

Students wrote and directed those, can you believe it? They're really working hard to raise awareness and get the public involved. It's a cause worth fighting for!

Given we can make diesel fuel from rock, water, and nuclear power at a price point not more than $300/bbl, I'd say that electric agriculture will only win if it can compete on price.

Could you elaborate? I've seen general discussions of feasibility, but I haven't seen detailed discussions of conversion efficiencies, capital and operating costs, energy inputs, etc.

I would imagine there would be a number of potential candidates for chemical conversion pathways.

A crash program is needed to investigate hydrogenated synfuels using nuclear or renewable hydrogen. Example C + 2H2 = CH4 via several intermediate steps such as the Sabatier reaction. Even if the practical net energy is low perhaps negative it may keep the wheels turning when hydrocarbons have a clear power or range advantage over electrical propulsion. The obvious example is jet fuel but the above discussion shows it may also be true of farm machinery.

If the energy cost is too high it may come down to a question of who gets the benefit of limited synthetic hydrocarbon fuels. Examples; flying Air Force One; growing food for the military, dispatching ambulances for seniors who might die anyway, gas heating in cold snaps for anyone outside the age range 10-70.

I don't know how you're basing this pricepoint.. but at $300/bbarrel, if even that could hold, I doubt you'd be considered all that competitive. What's that, $7.25/gal?

At that rate, how much does it cost to build the reactors and get those crews to and from work?

As a seasoned farmer of 30 years. I know that there will be no battery operated tractor plowing field on a sustained basis for 10-12 hours non-stop. Farmers need tractors for more than just hauling things. They need tractors with power to pull out stumps, power other machines, plowing and harvesting. And these tractors have to be able to run all day on one charge without stopping. This ain't gonna happen with batteries. Also, there has to be a limit for the electric grid for how many plug-ins you will be able to use to charge all the things that gasoline/diesel used to run. I think the grid would explode or burn up if you tried to do what you think you can do with the "GRID". Society needs to sit down under an old oak tree and think about what is really important and come up with some REALISTIC answers to the coming energy problems. I also want to remind everyone that there is so much copper, lead, lithium, and other metals to go around. So, someone is going to have to give up something to get food on the table. It's either batteries, electric motors, or food.

This is more orchard duty than what those of us from row crop areas would call 'farming'. I have a neighbor with many acres of apple trees and I think this thing would work for many of the tasks - apple hauling, tree spraying, etc.

While a like the article and admire the technology, the fact is that farmers (and that includes most "subsistence" farmers) can fuel their present tractors, tillers, trucks, and other "fossil-fuel" machinery quite trivially, simply by brewing their own ethanol, and without using any significant portion of their arable land. If you have any extra water (including gray-water or sewage) you can get at least 1700 gallons of ethanol per acre by permaculture growing of cattails. That is with only planting once, no fertilizer, no herbicides or other chemicals. Grow it on sewage or other fertilizer and you can get 2800 gallons an acre or more and very clean, even potable water out the other end.
If you don't have much water, you can easily get 900 gallons per acre by growing buffalo gourd (plus 100 gallons of vegetable oil to boot from the seeds) or other similar crops. And yes, any diesel can easily run on a mixture of 20% biodiesel and 80% ethanol, with no conversion, or by some simple conversions, run only 1-2% biodiesel and 98% ethanol. Or on pure ethanol if you lower the compression to between 16-18:1 and put spark plugs or full time glow plugs.
Plus for the small guys, one heck of a lot of ethanol can be produced from food scraps, scrounged feedstock, wild cattails, etc. Don't get me wrong, I think electric tractors, etc are great, but it's not too likely that many of us will have the money to buy them, when we can fuel our equipment so easily with stills made from junk.

I vote with you on that one, Ulf. Way easier than all the rest.

Added advantage, I can run on ethanol too. A little.

Booze and spark. That's it!

Only problem here- My wife don't like it.

Whats wrong with horses and mules ?

I think the project is neat don't get me wrong but I just get the feeling that this type of farming might be better served moving back to animal power.

When I was a kid my parents sent me to live with the Amish.
They pulled all kinds of farm implements with horses hooked to 3 point hitches it worked quite well.

What you find is that hydraulic power is important moving stuff with horses works quite well.

Also compressed air is just as interesting and useful.

Once you assume horses for providing the raw movement of equipment the remaining problem of adding very useful hydraulic or compressed air power to a implement is much more tractable (pun intended).

Assuming compressed air thats recharged via a battery pack towed to the edge of the field seems to make
a lot of sense.

Another good link.

This post is tackling two separate issues (1) how to electrify farm machinery (2) where will the energy for that electricity come from?

Electrifying farm machinery is straightforward - though until battery capacity improves, it's probably easier to have the tractor tow a mains cable.

But on-site photovoltaics are not a sensible way to supply energy where you are connected to the electricity grid - too expensive, too many toxic chemicals, and wasting good land. More feasible to use solar thermal in deserts to generate the electricity, and high-voltage DC to transmit power to temperate regions.

Surely it's expensive, but toxic? The industry (in the US and Europe anyway) is held to high pollutant standards, and once on your farm, PV is completely clean (just don't spill your batteries), unlike ICE tractors.. and as for space taken up, you can just cover the barn and equipment sheds with solar PV. You're not doing anything else with that roofspace, right? Doesn't seem like 5-8 KW would be that hard to fit on a couple good roofs..

Electrifying farm machinery is straightforward - though until battery capacity improves, it's probably easier to have the tractor tow a mains cable.

That is the thought that popped into my head at the thought of an electric combine harvester.

I also wondered about an overhead wire system with a pantograph, like an electric tram.

So here's my summary of all of above

1) Electricity is great for running a tractor (electric motors are very good)

2) Where you get the electricity is the problem
PV-battery is expensive
rawbiomass stirling engines are not here yet
towing a big long cable is a pain
batteries are big, heavy, charge slowly and take a lot of care

3) So we think of other ways in a post petroleum world
just go back to the spark IC with alcohol, which is easy to make on any farm (hic).
or if you don't like simple, try biodiesel or other biobased fuels (what's a farm for, anyhow?)

4) Or mules

5) Or slaves (lots of people around not doing much, did you notice?)

6), Or, hire guys like me to think up something else big, heavy, expensive, hard to make and ugly.
solar vapor cycle power (OTEC on your roof).
mini power tower- lots of heliostats shining on a boiler/stirling engine
lots of other ways fun to think up and cost-free until you actually try to do it.

A cable drum that winds in and out as the tractor traverses the field, might be easiest. You could keep a powerpoint on a post at the edge of each field and plug the drum into it.

Direct electric would be easier to engineer for agricultural vehicles, than it would be for road vehicles. The later would require a live rail embedded within the road.

OK, so you make a tractor with a big supercap on it. Takes a huge gulp of juice at end of each row from a bunch of appropriately spaced nipples. Cap only has to store enough to get from one nipple to next, plus enough to take care of wasteful exuberance of now-liberated electric tractor driver.

And/or just put a bunch of horses/mules/ bullocks on a treadmill grinding out kilowatts right on the tractor, with helper dressed in Ben-Hur outfit whipping 'em and shouting curses and threats in working-class Latin.

You make your money by selling the video/grandstand seats- rent out to Ivy league students and their professors-- extra charge for chance to be the benhur guy.

Like, I mean, why be pedestrian.

This arcane cable drum idea.

Did it occur to you that many fields are not square?


If of interest, we covered many of the line power design details being discussed, here >>>

Comment sections cover the designs we are building, now.

I foresee a fair rate of interesting fatalities with any system of farming fields by powercable.
And that's all assuming there will be a high-tech industrial society to keep all these machines in running order.
My view is that betting on there being a mains supply (of sufficient power) or a supply chain of big rechargeable batteries etc is going to be a risky bet. Safer to prepare to depend on horsepower and humanpower by various means. Regarding which, I'm still wondering why Rebecca Hosking of A Farm for the Future ruled out returning her farm to horse-power.

The power cable safety issues are pretty well known, studied and overcome with various life safety methods such a Ground Fault Interruption.

The overall power loads total to far less than just air conditioning, and if the sites also produce their own power locally, it gives additional back-up and redundancy to the grid, itself.

Agree that batteries tend be expensive and burdensome on the logistics end.

As far as going backwards -- time is generally viewed as being linear, and usually just progressing forward. Horses were replaced not because farmers loved steam or oil, but because steam and oil tended to do the job better, faster and cheaper. Now Electric methods are looking like they may the capacity to be better, faster and cheaper than oil. Nothing points towards horses much other than fond memories of the way things never were.

I consider it as a great and necessary oppertunity that heavy agricultural machinery is going to work on renewable energy