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

Celling the farm: are EVs the new frontier for primary producers?

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

That is already the reality for some Australian farmers.

Electric side-by-sides have made their mark on the farm, with some owners saying they were a viable alternative to the petrol or diesel-powered equivalent.

Phil and Fiona Murdoch recently purchased a side-by-side electric vehicle to use on their 490-acre wildlife sanctuary bordering Hattah National Park in northwest Victoria.

It will be used to water plants, seed native vegetation and allow guests to bird watch.

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

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

Murdoch used to wear earmuffs when traveling on the quad, but said hearing protection wasn’t necessary on the quieter side-by-side electric.

A woman is behind the wheel of a small electric farm vehicle with a dog in the back.  A man is standing next to the vehicle.
Phil and Fiona Murdoch say electric vehicles have improved significantly over the past decade.ABC Rural: Kellie Hollingworth

“I’m quite deaf and that helps a lot when I don’t have to struggle with the 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 that live on the property, who would normally be deterred by noisier vehicles.

The Murdochs have a solar system on their home and have considered installing a battery to charge the EV overnight with renewable energy.

“We spent $1200 to $1400 a year on fuel for the quadrunner and it would be almost $2000 now [with the recent increases in fuel costs]’ said Mr Murdoch.

“We’d still have to go 50 miles into the city to get the fuel, so there’s definitely some savings to be made with solar and EV,” Murdoch said.

Trial shows farm EVs are correct

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

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

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

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

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

Greg Morris, Agriculture Victoria’s senior technical officer, said it took eight hours for the vehicles to charge from a standard 240-volt outlet.

A power cord plugged into an outlet on a muddy agricultural vehicle.
Charging an electric side-by-side at the Ellinbank Smart Farm in West Gippsland.ABC Rural: Peter Somerville

Mr Morris said some of the research farm staff were initially skeptical about the electric model and leaned towards the “regular” petrol or diesel models.

“Originally it was hard to get people to take the normal things they were used to,” he said.

“But they’ve definitely seen the benefits of the electric [models]especially the reduced noise and they don’t have to refill the vehicles … so now they are in high demand in the fleet.

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

Morris said that despite the advantages of the electric models, they weighed more than petrol or diesel models and those who keep them for the long term should consider replacing the batteries.

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