2007 brought our first electric-powered vehicles to our farm. I watched my help and my family pulling fully loaded carts, easily weighing more than 300lb, around acres of our greenhouses. The strongest in our crews could manage 2 carts at a time. We work seven days a week and very long days. It is a lot of wear and tear on the body.
On a family vacation, we were strolling the airport to catch our connecting flight when one of my younger brothers was almost taken out by one of the cleaning crew carts. I saw that they were smaller than golf carts yet were dragging a supply cart with tools and foods and bulky items and started to wonder if that could work for us. They are so quiet that he didn't hear it sneak up on him over the PA system. They were also running them indoors, so there weren't any fumes which is not good for humans or plants.
We brought in our first electric tugs. They have never left. They charge overnight and make us 20x more efficient than walking carts on foot. We depend on our small fleet of tugs daily to pull up to 10 carts at once.
We purchased our first small utility vehicles in 1997 that were either gas or diesel powered. We run them 14 to 16 hours a day, running between buildings, checking on equipment, transporting people and product between fields, and monitoring crops.
Being a good steward requires good equipment and that we efficiently utilize the resources we consume. This summer, I noticed some of the equipment needed to be updated. We want to give electric a good try.
In the middle of my harvest season, I arranged for a one-week trial of an electric side-by-side. I wanted to see if it could do the work to replace my small utility vehicles now.
The good side: The machine was well made. It's quiet. It is easy to drive. It has power that is ready as soon as I put my foot down. It has the power to get up and go and still pull weight behind it.
The downside: My day starts at 4:30am. The battery was drained consistently by 2pm. The battery takes 8 to 12 hours to recharge. There are no rapid chargers for these units. The charging unit is separate from the vehicle, so you have to return to the same spot every night to charge.
Everyone wants to take a turn with a new toy on the farm. At the end of one of the days, the last person riding it thought they had plugged it in. The charging port wasn't connected fully, and it didn't charge at all. I plugged it in for two hours, giving me less than an hour of run time on the partial charge.
Suggestions to bump out the diesel and gas utility vehicles:
- Add a second battery for a longer run time.
- Make a rapid charger.
- Make an immediate feedback indicator that confirms charging is occurring.
- Include the charging unit and cord on the machine so it could charge anywhere it stopped for the night or in an emergency.
It's not time to switch the farm over yet, but I can see the options coming very soon.