Our New (Old) Electric Tractor

Our mechanic Evan recently completed transitioning on one of cultivating tractors from a gas-powered motor to an electric motor. We caught up with Evan to learn more about how he converted our tractor.

Q) Evan, what was the inspiration for this tractor?
Evan: It started out that we needed a cultivator, a way to keep weeds at bay while our crops are growing. We found this 1948 Allis-Chalmers G cultivating tractor that is supposedly ideal for this type of field work. When it arrived from the mainland, it had motor trouble (being almost a 70-year-old original motor) and finding parts for it was a little more than troublesome. So, after realizing that making the motor run like new was going to take months, our team found online that converting it into electric was not only relatively inexpensive, but was quick and easy to accomplish.

Q) How did you learn how to convert it?
Evan: A handful of websites, most notably Flying Beet and EVA, have write-ups and kits for this exact thing. I loosely followed the write-up and made my own modifications more suited for our needs and how we use equipment here at the ranch.

Q) How is this better than a traditional gas-powered tractor?
Evan: Maintenance is a huge factor in farm equipment, especially conventional tractors. Having an electric motor eliminates all the moving parts of a conventional internal combustion engine. There is no maintenance required, except for 2 shots of grease once a year to keep the main bearings lubricated, and the battery pack is also comprised of maintenance-free batteries.

Another benefit is the torque output of the electric motor. Because a conventional motor is always on and turning, there needs to be a clutch to disengage the motor from the transmission, which if you’ve ever driven a standard transmission car, you know can be a pain to achieve the perfect speed and power combination. The electric motor eliminated the need for a clutch, so when the “throttle” is opened, the motor puts out almost 100% of its torque throughout the speed range. This is great because the operator can have a very strong, “torque-y” machine at a very slow speed, which is ideal for our operations.

Longevity is the third big advantage of having an electric tractor. As long as the motor stays dry and the batteries stay charged, the tractor will run like it is supposed to. There are people out there that have had their cultivators switched to electric for more than 10 years that say they never have had any issues out if it at all. This tractor has the same drive setup as a golf cart, but with a specially built high-torque motor instead of one made for speed.

Emissions and noise are another great benefit, as there is almost zero noise and actually zero emissions. Consumption and waste are things of the past as well, as we never have to change the oil or fill the tractor up with fuel.

Q) Can you recommend any resources for other farms hoping to convert their tractors?
Evan: Flying Beet and EVA are the two top resources to consult. Flying Beet is a step-by-step instruction manual made for the average Joe, and EVA is the source of the kit and all other machined parts and supplies, custom built to your needs. Other websites are Farm Hack, Trojan Battery, and this PDF from the University of Alaska. There are quite a lot of converted tractors out there and forums for those interested, but as far as I know, we have the only electric tractor in the state of Hawaiʻi!