The SESAM (Sustainable Energy Supply for Agricultural Machinery) concept from John Deere is the first fully battery-powered agricultural tractor. Designed to provide all the operating functions and features of a standard tractor, it marks a major step forward, and reminded me about other milestones in the development of the tractor:
1 Small and efficient
“The contribution which Dan Albone made to the development of the farm tractor was enormous,” writes Michael Williams in Farm Tractors. Albone died in 1906, but in only about 10 years of development work he introduced a completely revolutionary concept. He developed and marketed the Ivel, the world’s first tractor that was both small and efficient. Launched in 1902, it was the forerunner of the tractors that millions of farmers would eventually buy.
2 Frameless construction
Henry Ford was the man behind two innovations that helped shape the future of the tractor. The first was the frameless construction concept designed for him by Eugene Farkas, where stressed cast iron units, engine, gearbox and rear axle housing were bolted together. The second was Ford’s development of the production line system, which meant that the tractors could be manufactured at a price farmers could afford. The Fordson production line is depicted here.
3 The row-crop
First introduced by International Harvester in 1924, the Farmall brand, which was on the market for 50 years, pioneered the ‘row-crop’ principle. The popularity of this brand in SA is proven by the many models seen at any vintage tractor display. The earliest tractors were used for ploughing. Big and heavy, they were not suited to operating in a land where a row crop was already growing. The light and affordable row-crop tractors changed all of this, bringing a farm tractor and its cultivator together in one machine.
4 Diesel power
In 1927, brothers Francesco and Eugenio Cassani designed and built the Cassani 40CV agricultural tractor – the first to be powered by a true diesel engine. The brothers went on to create the SAME tractor company.
5 The Ferguson system
In 1926, Harry Ferguson patented his tractor linkage system. This saw the tractor and implement working as a single unit, and the system is now found on just about every tractor in the world. After his famous ‘handshake agreement’ with Henry Ford ended, Harry started to build the famous Ferguson TE20 (seen here). About a million variants were sold worldwide between 1947 and 1956.
6 Articulated tracked tractor
Pioneers of the articulated tractor concept, the Steiger brothers sold their first tractor in 1958. Their company was acquired by Case IH in 1986, the same year that rubber tracks were introduced by Caterpillar on the Challenger 65.
In 1996, the Case IH Steiger Quadtrac, an articulated tractor with four rubber tracks, was launched and became the most powerful commercially produced tractor in the world. The current top of the range model is rated at 465kW, peaking at over 500kW.
The SESAM concept
The SESAM tractor is a fundamental component of John Deere’s vision of the energy autonomous farm of the future. This prototype machine produces 130kW of continuous power and is based on the chassis of a Mannheim-built 6R series tractor.
Two maintenance-free electric motors drive the adapted Direct Drive transmission in standard mode. One motor powers the drive train and the other the PTO and auxiliary systems. If necessary, both motors can be linked together to supply full power, either for transport or for PTO and hydraulic work.
The speed range is from 3km/h to 50km/h at full power and the step-less transmission control provides high torque at low speeds and maximum power of about 300kW.
The tractor is emission-free and runs at a very low noise level. Currently, one battery charge lasts for up to four road operating hours or around 55km of transport.
Charging time is about three hours and the battery is designed to last for 3 100 charging cycles.
Is the SESAM electric tractor going to be the next big thing? Watch this space!
Joe Spencer is the mechanisation editor of Farmer’s Weekly.