Case New Holland (CNH) has announced a licencing agreement with Monarch, a California-based start-up which has developed an electrically powered autonomous tractor.
CNH took a minority shareholding of Monarch in March of this year and it appears to be realising some value from its investment with this latest move.
Future plans for Monarch
It is uncertain as to whether the present Monarch model will simply be painted in NH blue or Case red as the statement issued by CNH states:
"CNH Industrial announces that it has entered into an exclusive, multi-year licencing agreement for electrification technologies with Monarch Tractor, a US-based ag-tech company specialising in fully electric autonomous tractors."
This suggests that CNH is not so much interested in the tractor produced by Monarch, as the technology that has been developed to make it function.
The statement goes on to say:
"The licence agreement foresees the launch of a scalable, modular electrification platform focusing on low horsepower tractors."
It might therefore be reasonable to expect the creation of a new, electrically-powered, model line of smaller tractors which will run alongside, or within, the New Holland Boomer range of machines.
CNH appears to have put aside the idea of larger electrically-powered tractors which place demands on batteries that, in their current stage of development, they simply cannot meet.
The technology of autonomy
This announcement comes hot on the heels of the news of New Holland's venture in Italy where it has partnered with the 5,000ac Il Raccolto Farm in Bologna.
In this enterprise, it intends to develop not only greater energy efficiency but also more autonomy with machines operating in tillage, dairy and vineyard situations, a perfect fit for the the Monarch tractor technology.
Elsewhere, Kubota to take a greater interest
Kubota will be increasing its shareholding in Escorts Tractors next March. Currently, it owns around 9% of the company's shares, but is intending to increase that significantly.
Although the purchase is primarily aimed at securing a position in the Indian tractor market, Escorts owns the Farmtrac brand, which launched its own electrically-powered small tractor in Ireland in October.
Presently the Japanese company has an electric mini-digger and tracked dumper in its construction range, but battery-powered machines are absent from its compact tractor line-up, the market segment in which Farmtrac hopes to prosper.
The much anticipated move towards battery-powered tractors may be starting to creep out of the starting gate, but without any revolutionary development in battery technology, it is unlikely to accelerate at any great pace.