Autonomous Electric Monarch Tractor Brings the Latest Advancements to the Fields
by PAUL CATALA
Growers recently got a glimpse of the latest in farm equipment technology during a demonstration of what is billed as the world’s first fully electric, driver-optional, AI-connected tractor.
In early May, Monarch held a demonstration of its MK-V tractor at Polkdale Farms, a 70-acre blueberry farm in Auburndale.
The demonstration drew roughly 100 people — including growers, municipal representatives, and potential Monarch dealers from Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, and South Carolina — who were interested in learning more about the future of farming.
Since the start of its development six years ago, the momentum in utilizing autonomous technology like what’s found on a Monarch tractor continues to grow. Monarch just recently moved the tractor’s production from the company’s California home base to a new, nearly 6.2-million-square-foot facility in Warren, Ohio. That move partners Monarch with the world’s largest electronic manufacturer, Hon Hai Technology, in the production of the roughly $89,000 tractor.
Some of the hopes riding on the Monarch tractor include maximized profits, reduced emissions, elevated safety, and better business.
During the demonstration, the Monarch tractor autonomously navigated through blueberry fields at Polkdale Farms, maneuvering between rows and around bushes.
Blueberry grower and Polk County Commissioner Bill Braswell, who owns Polkdale Farms, is well aware of the expenses associated with farming in Florida. Because labor is such a big part of those expenses, his interest was piqued when he heard about the MK-V a couple of years ago at a demonstration in Salem, Oregon.
Braswell says he’s always looking for ways to cut down on labor and fuel costs to stay competitive with other growers, and part of his reason for hosting the demonstration luncheon was to help Monarch open a dealership in Florida.
In the U.S., as immigration laws and the pandemic have resulted in a dwindling agricultural labor force, the cost of finding tractor operators continues to rise; it now costs about $30 an hour for each tractor driver.
Additionally, the average age of an American farmer is 57 and future generations of potential farmers are moving out of rural areas and abandoning family farms. While gas prices continue to rise, farm machinery has become more expensive to run, forcing small farms to shut down. Technology such as the MK-V can help offset that end result.
Braswell says the technological sophistication of the MK-V is remarkable.
“It just goes, you know, nobody’s on it – it’s just weird looking,” he says. “As soon as I saw it, I knew that was the future of agriculture and I wanted to be a part of it.
“I wanted to see it work on my farm, and it did everything I expected it to. I wanted to
share the information with other growers in the state.”
Braswell says the Monarch tractor is capable of mowing, pulling a sprayer, a tiller or anything that runs off a power takeoff shaft and takes five to six hours to fully charge using an 80-amp charger.
The demonstration showed how the tractor’s cameras can take video from several angles to give farmers the ability to closely monitor their crops. The AI function can communicate with the farmer if the MK-V encounters some kind of obstruction, like a large rock or an animal.
“It’s got a lot of uses for us. I know a lot of farmers in Florida,” Braswell says, “and I wanted them to know this isn’t in a science fiction book, it’s really here and now.”