Phil and Fiona Murdoch sit inside the side by side. Their dog sits in the back

Cellulizing the farm: are electric vehicles the new frontier for primary producers?

Imagine reducing the fuel bill of your agricultural vehicles, spending less on maintenance and at the same time significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

This is already the reality for some Australian farmers.

Electric side-by-sides have hit the farm trails, and some owners have said they’re a viable alternative to the gasoline or diesel equivalent.

Phil and Fiona Murdoch recently purchased an electric side-by-side vehicle for use on their 490-hectare conservation property adjoining Hattah National Park in northwest Victoria.

It will be used to water plants, seed native vegetation and take guests birdwatching.

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The couple first considered buying an electric vehicle for the property ten years ago, but the models weren’t suitable and they waited for the technology to evolve.

“So when we tried this new electric vehicle, we put a water cart behind it, we put the direct seeder behind it, and it lifted the sand dunes, no worries.”

Mr Murdoch used to wear earmuffs when traveling on a quad, but said hearing protection was not necessary on the quieter electric side-by-side.

A woman sits behind the wheel of a small electric farm vehicle with a dog on the back.  A man stands next to the vehicle.
Phil and Fiona Murdoch say electric vehicles have improved dramatically over the past decade.(Rural ABC: Kellie Hollingworth)

“I’m quite deaf and it helps a lot not having to struggle with engine noise, especially when Fiona is with me,” he said.

It also allows the couple and their guests to get a closer look at some of the animals living on the property, which would typically be scared away by louder vehicles.

The Murdochs have a solar system on their house and have considered installing a battery, which would allow them to charge the EV overnight with renewable energy.

“We were spending $1,200 to $1,400 a year on fuel for the quad and it would be almost $2,000 now. [with the recent increases in fuel costs]“, Mr. Murdoch said.

“Then we’d have to drive 80 kilometers into town to get the fuel anyway, so there’s definitely a saving to be made with solar power and electric vehicles,” Murdoch said.

Trial shows farm electric vehicles add up

A trial at Agriculture Victoria’s Ellinbank Smart Farm in West Gippsland showed that electric side-by-sides could be charged for free from solar or grid power for just $150.

Greg stands next to a muddy four wheel farm vehicle with a hay shed in the background
Agriculture Victoria Senior Technical Officer Greg Morris with an electric side-by-side in use at Ellinbank Smart Farm.(Rural ABC: Peter Somerville)

This was based on a journey of 5,200 kilometers per year.

Over the same period and for the same mileage, Agriculture Victoria calculated that the electric model emitted just two kilograms of carbon dioxide when charged on the grid, compared to 5.5 tonnes for a petrol model.

The test showed it would cost $19,339 to own an electric model for three years, compared to $24,329 for a gasoline and $28,570 for a diesel model.

Agriculture Victoria senior technical officer Greg Morris said the vehicles took eight hours to charge from empty on a standard 240-volt socket.

A power cable plugged into an outlet on a muddy farm vehicle.
An electric side-by-side being charged at the Ellinbank Smart Farm in West Gippsland.(Rural ABC: Peter Somerville)

Mr Morris said some staff at the research farm were initially skeptical of the electric model and gravitated towards the “normal” petrol or diesel models.

“Initially, it was difficult to get people out of the normal to take the ones they were used to,” he said.

“But they certainly saw the benefits of electricity [models]especially the noise reduction and they don’t have to recharge the vehicles…so now they are very much sought after in the fleet.

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“You can actually have a conversation while you’re driving. Often times, especially the petrol versions, they’re quite loud and trying to talk while you’re driving seems like you’re yelling at each other.”

Mr Morris said that despite the benefits of electric models, they weigh more than petrol or diesel models and those keeping them for the long term may need to consider replacing the batteries.

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