Hybrid Electric Tractor Energy - Saving Configuration Conversion

Progress report for FNC23-1363

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $14,957.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Pigeon River Farm
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Robert Braun
Pigeon River Farm
Expand All

Project Information

Description of operation:

Robert Braun, is currently a full-time Farmer with over 45 years of combined full-time and part-time farming experience. Robert is an ASE Master Mechanic with over 40 years in the field and 18 years as a professional educator at two Wisconsin Tech Colleges in their auto, truck, equipment, and renewable energies programs. Robert has an extensive background in practical tractor repair and modifications to optimize utility and minimize environmental impact.

With 17 patents to his credit, Robert also has extensive experience in comprehensive research, design, patenting, prototyping and testing of solution-based mechanical equipment. Robert has received and administrated multiple grants throughout his career.
Robert’s career experience includes:
• Soil rehabilitation / Organic vegetable production / Pastured beef & poultry / Renewable energies
• WIDS format technical curriculum development and delivery
• Educational outreach and video production
• Hands-on technical instruction of gas and diesel power plant technology
• Hands-on equipment and repair/service procedure training
• Field research and analysis
• Repair technology design & development
• Project management
• Government grant proposal preparation / fulfillment / administration
• Video / audio production and editing

Brian Buckta, proprietor of Written Impressions, is a career professional specializing in outreach and administration of sustainable agriculture and renewable energies initiatives. Brian and Robert have worked together on multiple successful projects over the past 30 years.
Brian’s career experience includes:
• Environmental air-quality programs design, administration and implementation
• USEPA Environmental Standards document preparation
• Composition of agricultural / environmental / renewable energies / educational grant proposals
• Technical curriculum development and implementation / WIDS format
• Consumer and commercial sales & customer-service communications engineering, authorship and
• Business & marketing plan development, authorship and implementation / field research and analysis
• Development and implementation of marketing communications systems
• HACCP / SSOP development / forms design and administration
• Project management / event coordination / public speaking
• Extensive technical writing
• Published automotive / environmental author

Established in 2003, Pigeon River Farm is a family owned and farmed 50-acre Organically-Operated facility located on the southern branch of the Pigeon River near Clintonville in Waupaca County, Wisconsin. Pigeon River Farm’s AWA certified chickens and livestock are pastured according to free range, rotational grazing practices. Pigeon River Farm’s livestock and chickens are rotated through paddocks of high-quality legumes and grasses. Pigeon River Farm also utilizes a solar PV system to generate electrical power.


Due to the increasingly high cost of new tractors, most small farms simply cannot afford them. Most small farms rely on older petroleum-fueled utility tractors with poor fuel efficiency. This places most small farms at the mercy of petroleum fuel prices to maintain economic sustainability. Unfortunately, older petroleum-fueled utility tractors also usually represent a high carbon footprint and require ongoing maintenance with heavy use.   

New electric farm tractors can cost 20-35% more than comparable diesel or gas tractors. Although affordable full-electric drive tractor conversion options are available, these conversions generally limit a tractor to light-duty and/or short-lived tasks. Most farmers will ultimately be forced to revert to their time-tested petroleum-fueled tractors to complete many tasks on the farm.

No options are currently available for an affordable, versatile hybrid dual-fuel tractor conversion that will allow a tractor to perform all the necessary tasks on the farm.

Project Objectives:

Farmall M Tractor That Will be Used for the Project

A hybrid dual-fuel tractor conversion will ultimately boost economic farm sustainability through petroleum fuel reduction. This is especially if on-farm solar power is available. A hybrid dual-fuel tractor conversion will ultimately boost ecological sustainability through carbon emissions reduction, and social sustainability through a public perception of responsible environmental stewardship.

While the maximum efficiency of an internal combustion engine running on petroleum fuel is around 33%, direct-drive electric motors average around 90% efficiency. Much like a hybrid electric car, a dual-fueled tractor will give the farmer the benefits, range, and power of both electric and petroleum fuels. The conversion will also include on-board electrical regeneration features.

The on-board technology provided by the conversion will primarily utilize electric power, and it will automatically engage gasoline power when needed to meet power demands for specific tasks.  The system components and software will be fine-tuned during the 1-year testing period to provide optimal results.

  1. An initial benchmark will be determined by measuring fuel consumption of the test tractor “Farmall M” in actual service on the farm. All tasks will be recorded.
  2. Necessary equipment will be ordered.
  3. The test tractor “Farmall M” will be taken out of service to begin the conversion. Each step of the conversion process will be recorded with video footage. An open house will be scheduled once each month during the project build so interested farmers can see the progress on the buildout of the system.
  4. Video and still photos will be posted online during every step of the project on YouTube, Facebook, and other online venues.
  5. When the prototype is built, the hybrid tractor utility and fuel consumption will be tested and recorded in common on-farm applications over the course of 1 year. In addition to traditional local farming community promotional channels, live events on Facebook and YouTube are planned to show the hybrid system in action in all seasons throughout the year. Live videos will highlight each project milestone and each new task such as cutting hay, moving wagon, etc., and important system hardware or software information.
  6. A field day will be held at Pigeon River Farm to share the full project details with the local farming community and provide a live demonstration of the prototype tractor.
  7. Live demonstrations of the prototype tractor will be presented at the annual Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) Conference and at the Annual Central Wisconsin Tractor Show. In addition, classroom presentations and live demonstrations will be offered to Marion High School FFA and the Fox Valley Technical College Agriculture Program.
  8. The project will provide video data and print reporting on the full details of conversion process and comprehensive project results will be produced that may be used for further outreach and tutorials.

Project Objectives:

  1. Establish benchmarks by measuring gasoline consumption of test tractor in common farm usage.
  2. Modify Farmall M tractor with a hybrid gasoline / electric dual fuel drive system.
  3. Test and record hybrid tractor utility and fuel consumption in common on-farm applications over the course of 1 year.
  4. Provide ongoing outreach activities to the local farming community throughout the course of the project.
  5. Provide video data and print reporting on conversion process and project results that may be used for outreach and future tutorials.



Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Erik Hodne - Technical Advisor (Researcher)


Materials and methods:

Review of Phase 1

Phase 1 of our project has reached its completion, barring the pending field testing, which is contingent on favorable weather conditions for tractor operations. This phase was pivotal in garnering feedback from the twelve participants who have been actively engaged since the project's inception.

Participant Feedback and Skill Assessment

A critical aspect of this phase was evaluating the project's practicality based on the participants' skill levels. Feedback was dichotomous: half of the participants felt confident in executing the tasks with the aid of instructional videos and detailed photographic documentation provided during the development phase. The remaining participants indicated reliance on skilled mechanics within their networks to assist in the process. This split underscores the importance of accessibility and varying skill levels in the farming community.

Component Selection and Design Simplification

The components for this project were meticulously chosen to balance simplicity and the inherent complexity of such systems. Two primary objectives drove this decision: ensuring ease of service in the future and facilitating procurement for potential future expansions by other farmers. The feedback received has been instrumental in refining some of the component designs, making them more user-friendly and efficient.


Research results and discussion:

Outreach and Community Engagement

Our outreach efforts, encompassing multiple YouTube videos, television interviews, and magazine features, have significantly broadened the project's visibility. This has sparked engaging and insightful conversations with farmers beyond our initial participant group, indicating a growing interest and potential impact in the wider agricultural community.

Prototype and Upcoming Field Testing

The prototype, now ready for application, is poised to undergo field testing. This testing is crucial to determine the energy index of conventional fuels versus the solar photovoltaic energy required to power the electric drive component of the system. The participating farmers have expressed keen interest in this aspect, eagerly anticipating both the process and the outcomes of these tests.

Conclusion and Forward Look

The completion of Phase 1 marks a significant milestone in our project. The feedback and insights gained have been invaluable in refining our approach and preparing for the critical field testing phase. We anticipate that the results of this testing will provide compelling data on the efficiency and viability of integrating solar energy into farming operations, offering a potentially transformative approach to energy use in agriculture.

Participation Summary
12 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Journal articles
4 On-farm demonstrations
1 Published press articles, newsletters
12 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

5 Farmers participated
2 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

2023 Outreach Activities to date:

Video 1 March 5th    https://youtu.be/hut756ui544

Shop meeting on March 25th to review the project with five local Farmers. Finalize the motor and battery mounting design.

Video 2 April 2nd    https://youtu.be/fxXZ6f_lOWg

Video 3 July 16th    https://youtu.be/N-wOzRb9TlQ

Video 4 July 31 https://youtu.be/N-wOzRb9TlQ

Wisconsin State Farmer Newspaper  July 26th $15K grant to help Marion farmer convert Farmall into dual-fuel tractor (wisfarmer.com)

Video 5 Sept 15th  https://youtu.be/iKc_eMzw8hs

Review meeting on Nov. 25th Review the wiring system.

Video 6 Dec 13th  https://youtu.be/EWexT8AjLlM

FARM SHOW Magazine - The BEST stories about Made-It-Myself Shop Inventions, Farming and Gardening Tips, Time-saving Tricks & the Best Farm Shop Hacks, DIY Farm Projects, Tips on Boosting your farm income, time-saving farming advice, farming tractors and Agriculture equipment reviews

Video of the Hybrid tractor on channel 5 Greenbay WI. The segment starts at 8:30 on the timecode.


Part 2 Video of the Hybrid tractor on Channel 5 Greenbay WI. The segment starts at 8:11 on the timecode.

Midwest Farm Weekly 12/30/2023 | WFRV Local 5 - Green Bay, Appleton (wearegreenbay.com)


Learning Outcomes

12 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

Learning from the Grant: Navigating Supply Line Challenges

A significant lesson learned during this project was the complexity and unpredictability of supply lines. Initially, we anticipated a straightforward process in acquiring the necessary components. However, the reality proved more challenging than expected. As we delved into the procurement phase, we encountered backorders and delays, particularly for unique and diverse components essential to our prototype.

This issue was not unique to our project. During the focus groups conducted in the first half of the project, we found that many farmers shared similar experiences with component delays over the past few years. Despite these challenges, our team demonstrated resilience and adaptability. We were able to navigate around these problems, and in some instances, we sourced higher-quality components for the same price. This success can be attributed to the invaluable recommendations from farmers who participated in our focus groups, suggesting alternative suppliers they had previously used.

Impact on Farm/Ranch Operation

Despite the initial setbacks, the component shortage did not majorly derail our project timeline. We are currently on target, with a functional prototype ready for testing as soon as weather conditions permit. This experience underscored the importance of involving talented and resourceful individuals early in the project who can provide solutions when unexpected issues like sourcing arise.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Implementing the Project

The project's implementation brought forth several advantages, including enhanced problem-solving skills, a better understanding of supply chain dynamics, and strengthened community ties through collaborative efforts. However, it also highlighted the disadvantages, such as the vulnerability of farm operations to supply chain disruptions and the need for effective contingency planning.

Recommendations for Other Farmers or Ranchers

Based on our experiences, we recommend other farmers and ranchers embarking on similar projects actively engage with their community and establish a network of reliable suppliers. It's crucial to plan for potential supply chain disruptions and have alternative sourcing strategies. The collective wisdom and experience of the farming community can be an invaluable resource in navigating these challenges.


The journey through this SARE grant project has been enlightening and transformative for our farm operation. It has taught us the significance of community collaboration, the need for flexibility in project planning, and the importance of being prepared for supply chain uncertainties. These learnings are not just pivotal for our operation but also hold valuable insight for the broader farming community, emphasizing the role of grants like SARE in fostering innovation and collective growth in sustainable agriculture.

Project Outcomes

12 New working collaborations
Success stories:

The positive feedback I've received has been incredibly uplifting, not just from our focus group participants but also from other farmers who've learned about our project and contacted me about the idea of integrating renewable energy into our farming operations. The potential to harness this energy effectively is a promising aspect of our work. Moreover, the coverage in agricultural publications and television interviews has piqued my interest even further. I am eager to see the level of interest once our hybrid tractor is operational in the fields, demonstrating the concept's viability. Some farmers have expressed concerns about their ability to handle the technical aspects of assembling such a product. I believe that providing more comprehensive written documentation and instructional videos could greatly alleviate these concerns.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.