Dumping diesel on farms would be dumb says market research company

Dumping diesel would do little to cut carbon emissions from agriculture

Machinery
DIESEL POWER: Swapping diesel for electric power on farms would have little impact on global agriculture's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

DIESEL POWER: Swapping diesel for electric power on farms would have little impact on global agriculture's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

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An international market research company has issued a warning about agriculture pushing too hard towards electrification of farm machinery.

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The widespread electrification of farm tractors and machinery would have little impact on agriculture's global carbon emissions says an international company that provides market research on automation and robots.

Senior research director at Interact Analysis, Alistair Hayfield, said while agriculture was a major emitter of greenhouse gases, the contribution from farm machinery wasn't significant.

He said the electrification of land vehicles was gathering pace across the world but warned agriculture should be cautious about being swept up in the rush to dump diesel and petrol.

"There are valid reasons for wondering whether widespread electrification for agricultural machinery makes sense," Mr Hayfield said.

"Farming is one of the largest contributors to global greenhouse emissions. Enteric fermentation - the digestive process through which methane is produced by farm animals - is by far the biggest factor in this pollution," he said.

"The level of emissions from farming machinery is tiny by comparison, so while policies or technologies that try to reduce the emissions produced by agricultural machinery will be helpful, they won't have a significant impact on total emissions from the sector.

"Also, it could be argued that there is a strong case for not pushing for low- or zero-emission agricultural machinery.

"It would be more expensive than its ICE (internal combustion engine) equivalent, and, given that most new tractors are sold to developing countries which are embracing mechanisation to improve production, obliging food producers to purchase expensive electrified equipment may slow the drive to mechanisation and increase food prices."

Despite arguments against the electrification of farm vehicles, some manufacturers were pushing ahead with battery electric tractor production, he said.

"In Western Europe and North America there is demand from sustainable farms for more environmentally friendly equipment.

"However, demand is likely to remain low since these farms remain relatively niche and the high price of electrified machinery will deter many buyers.

"India, however, could be one market that adopts electric tractors on a major scale."

Sonalika and Escorts Limited, two leading Indian engineering companies, have introduced low horsepower electric models.

"They are aimed at the low end of the market, don't cost much more than their diesel equivalents and they offer several advantages.

"Firstly, like all electric vehicles, they have much lower running costs since they don't require as much maintenance and electricity is cheaper than diesel.

"Secondly, the availability of fuel in rural India is limited. Farmers often have to travel quite far to obtain fuel.

"By being able to charge at home - potentially from renewable sources - they can save time and money," Mr Hayfield said.

He said the demand for farm machinery was relatively strong in 2020 despite the worldwide impact of COVID.

"Good weather and strong crop production in some markets, coupled with the need to replace aging equipment, meant global machinery sales grew in 2020 and the longer-term forecast is expected to be positive.

"One specific driver being increased mechanisation in China, India and other developing markets."

The Chinese government has continued its policy of subsidising the updating of farm machinery to improve the rate of mechanisation, he said.

"In the US, three major tractor manufacturers - Agco Corporation, CNH Industrial and Kubota each reported increased sales in 2020."

But in Western Europe Agco reporting an overall decrease in sales in the first nine months of 2020 due mainly to COVID-19 production constraints.

Meanwhile, UK-based tech market research company IDTechEx said electric motorcycle sales were likely to have jumped by 50 per cent to around 21,000 in Europe last year.

Growth was being boosted by government policies and growing consumer awareness and acceptance in Europe of the benefits of electric motorcycles in reducing emissions and noise pollution.

The European electric car market has been on a strong upward curve since 2017.

Price remained the biggest barrier to increased uptake of electric motorcycles: a motorcycle with a 14kW battery pack was selling for more than $US15,000.

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