A few months ago I was asked to help
Farmers Weekly, a publication in the United Kingdom, put
together a snapshot of Canadian farming statistics for one of their
issues. One of the questions the editor wanted me to address was how
much Canadian farmers are paying for marked diesel fuel.
Of course the exact price varies
between provinces and by retailer, but the comparison showed a
surprising result: the UK price was only 1.5 cents per litre higher
than it is in Saskatchewan. I, like a lot of others, expected the
difference to be much greater.
When I attended the Agritechnica farm
machinery show in Hannover Germany last November, there seemed to be
much more concern in Europe about minimizing fuel consumption and
developing alternative energy sources than currently exists in
North America. Considering the relatively small price difference
between the UK and Saskatchewan, it is interesting that the same
situation doesn’t apply here.
It’s not a simple issue, though.
Pressure from environmentalists and government incentives certainly
play a big role in driving alternative fuel efforts over there. And
European tractors tend to log a lot more hours each year than
Canadian machines do, which means farmers there buy a lot more fuel
on a per-acre basis.
The upcoming mandates on biofuel and
biodiesel contents will move us a step closer to European thinking on
energy. But there will still be a pretty wide gap. Given that fact,
it isn’t really a surprise New Holland’s hydrogen-powered NH2 tractor
spent it’s first year in Europe after it was unveiled at the SIMA
show in Paris in 2009. But the company has now brought it to North
America. American farmers had their first look at it at the U.S. Farm
Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, at the end of August.
The NH2 is the first hydrogen
prototype tractor to be shown at public exhibitions. I took this
picture of it at the Agritechnica show in Hannover Germany last
“New Holland’s experimental
is a key element in a project that hopes to free farmers from the
cost of purchased fossil-fuel and allow them to achieve fuel autonomy
while meeting increasingly stringent emissions standards,” reads
the company’s press release.
are in a unique position to benefit from hydrogen technology,” it
continues. “Unlike many people, they have the space to install
alternative electricity generation systems, such as solar, wind,
biomass or waste, and then store that power as hydrogen. Apart from
the environmental benefits, such a system would allow customers to
become energy independent and improve their financial stability.”
NH2 is built on a T6000 platform and powered by hydrogen, which is
converted to electricity to power an electric motor that delivers 106
horsepower. “The tractor has zero emissions because it does not
produce polluting nitrogen oxides, soot particles or carbon dioxide.
And because the NH2
is virtually silent, there’s also no noise pollution.”
see the tractor in operation, go to New Holland’s website. There is a
video of it softly humming as it negotiates a course around pylons,
not exactly a typical day in the field, but it’s a start.
idea behind the NH2 is to get people thinking about alternative
energy. It really would be nice to have an unlimited supply of fuel
right on the farm, wouldn’t it?
oil prices head back to a sustained US $140 per barrel, interest in
alternative-fuel vehicles may grow. In a recent Globe
article, David Mondragon, head of Ford of Canada, publicly stated he
believes that price point for oil is what it will take to stimulate
interest in electric vehicles. And although he was talking
specifically about cars rather than tractors, the importance of fuel
costs is likely equally relavent in both. Nothing short of very
expensive fuel is likely to really stir things up on this side of the
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