Battery Electric Tractors: Small-Scale Organic Growers’ Preferences, Perceptions, and Concerns

Energies2022, 15(22), 8648; https://doi.org/10.3390/en15228648

Abstract

Battery electric tractors (BETs) demonstrate considerable advantages over diesel-fueled tractors, including higher conversion efficiency, higher torque, less maintenance, and no tailpipe emissions. Converting to BETs also requires tradeoffs in the form of the batteries’ high cost, increased weight, limited energy capacity, finite charging cycles, and lengthy charging time. The extent to which small-scale organic vegetable, fruit and cut-flower growers are aware of these tradeoffs is unknown. Little research exists examining these growers’ perceptions, concerns, and willingness to pay for or adopt BETs. Here, we address that gap by conducting qualitative semi-structured interviews with 14 organic growers in the US Midwest, most operating in Michigan. We focus our questions on growers’ motivations, existing tractor-use patterns, and the evaluation of different configurations of a belly-mount open-station cultivating BET. Our results suggest interest in and potential for growers to transition to BETs, including an estimated willingness to pay 14 percent more for a BET compared to a diesel-fueled alternative. This premium is driven by most growers’ preferences for reduced noise, fumes, fuel, and greenhouse gases, as well as beliefs about BETs ultimately being a more sustainable long-term option than diesel-fueled tractors. Growers also identify significant concerns and uncertainty about the long-term performance, maintenance, storage, cost, safety, and weight of the tractors’ battery systems. While growers linked some environmental values and motivations to their interest in BETs, altruistic value signaling was absent, and growers focused considerably more on financial and instrumental concerns and motivations for BET adoption.

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