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Electric vehicles help farmers drive savings and lower carbon footprint

Imagine cutting out the fuel bill for your farm vehicles, spending less on servicing and at the same time drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

That is already the reality for some Australian farmers.

Electric side-by-sides have hit farm tracks, and some owners said they were a viable alternative to the petrol- or diesel-powered equivalent.

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

It will be used to help water plants, direct seed native vegetation and take guests bird watching.

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The couple first considered getting an EV for the property a decade ago, but the models were unsuitable and they waited for the technology to evolve.

“So when we tried this new EV we put a water cart on behind it, we put the direct seeder on behind it, and it pulled up the sand dunes, no worries.”

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

A woman sits behind the steering wheel of a small electric farm vehicle with a dog in the back.  A man stands beside the vehicle.
Phil and Fiona Murdoch say electric vehicles have improved significantly in the past decade.(ABC Rural: Kellie Hollingworth)

“I’m quite deaf and that helps a lot with not having to compete against the engine noise, particularly when Fiona’s with me,” he said.

It also enables the couple and their guests to get a closer look at some of the animals living on the property, which would usually be scared off by noisier vehicles.

The Murdochs have a solar system on their house and have been considering installing a battery, which would enable them to recharge the EV overnight with renewable energy.

“We were spending $1200 to $1400 a year on fuel for the quad runner and it would nearly be $2000 now [with the recent increases in fuel costs],” Mr Murdoch said.

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

Trial shows farm EVs add up

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

Greg stands beside a muddy four-wheeled farm vehicle with a hayshed in the background
Agriculture Victoria’s senior technical officer Greg Morris with an electric side-by-side in use at Ellinbank Smart Farm.(ABC Rural: Peter Somerville)

That was based on traveling 5,200 kilometers per year.

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

The trial has shown it would cost $19,339 to own an electric model for three years, compared to $24,329 for a petrol 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 power socket.

A power lead plugged into a socket on a muddy farm vehicle.
An electric side-by-side on charge at the Ellinbank Smart Farm in West Gippsland.(ABC Rural: Peter Somerville)

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

“Originally it was hard to get people to get out of the normal of taking the ones that they were used to,” he said.

“But definitely they’ve seen the benefits of the electric [models]particularly the decreased noise and they’re not having to refill the vehicles … so now they’re well sought after in the fleet.

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“You can actually have a conversation as you drive. Often, particularly the petrol versions, they’re quite loud and trying to speak while driving you basically seem to be yelling at each other.”

Mr Morris said despite the advantages of the electric models, they weighed more than petrol or diesel models and those keeping them for the long-term may have to consider replacing batteries.

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