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Down on the Farm: Free tour includes glimpse at Oregon’s first electric tractors

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Dave Picanso drives an electric powered tracker at Rusted Gate Farm in Central Point. Photos by Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Dave Picanso drives an electric powered tracker at Rusted Gate Farm in Central Point. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
flowers in the you pick garden part of Rusted Gate Farm in Central Point. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Flowers in the you pick garden part of Rusted Gate Farm in Central Point. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune

Take Sunday’s Rogue Valley Farm Tour, and take a ride behind the region’s quietest, cleanest tractor.

Oregon’s first electric tractors are undergoing test runs at Central Point’s Rusted Gate Farm. These battery-powered vehicles, says farm manager Dave Picanso, have everything that regular tractors have — excepting engine noise and exhaust fumes.

“The tractor was more or less a prototype,” says Picanso.

The Solectrac 25G was selected by two statewide nonprofits to advance the use of electric vehicles in the agricultural sector. Installed with remote sensors, the tractors collect data demonstrating on-farm fuel savings and other potential outcomes.

A collaboration of Forth and Sustainable Northwest, the project intends to expand electric vehicles and charging infrastructure beyond urban areas into Oregon’s rural communities. Rusted Gate, a nonprofit demonstration farm at 5700 Upton Road, is fertile ground for gauging the utility and feasibility of electric farm equipment.

“It does everything that a regular tractor does,” says Picanso. “This doesn’t have to be a compromise.”

Running on the equivalent of a 25-horsepower engine, the tractor is the “next generation” of a larger tractor that Rusted Gate trialed over the spring. Now at the fairgrounds in Central Oregon, the 30G tractor mowed and cleared brush at Rusted Gate before Picanso ultimately recommended it for maintenance of arenas, where crowds and animals alike would appreciate its quiet, clean operation.

“It was simple to charge,” he says. “We could run it really hard for three and a half hours.”

Equipped with power steering and four-wheel drive, the smaller tractor has been moving irrigation lines throughout the sweltering temperatures of Southern Oregon’s early summer. Wide tires leave hardly a trace in wet fields, says Picanso, adding that the tractor will pull a trailer for chauffeuring visitors on the Farm Tour.

“We’re so incredibly excited to be introducing ourselves to the community,” says Jo Ann Shannon, executive director of Rusted Gate.

One of 23 farms featured on the Tour, Rusted Gate comprises five separate parcels — totaling 150 acres — purchased between 2014 and 2020 to preserve the region’s agricultural legacy and stem the tide of cannabis cultivation, says Shannon. Some of the properties still are known in the community as the Castor Farm, Hanson Farm and Straus Ranch.

Rusted Gate co-founder Rachel Hall is a longtime Central Point resident who despaired over the demise of small farms in her neighborhood. Her sister, Christy Walton, is a longtime philanthropist through the Walton Family Foundation, which has ties to Walmart. Together the women, backed by Walton’s Alumbra Innovations Foundation, offered farm owners an outlet for selling and retiring without sacrificing the land they had worked to build. And Walton’s long-term commitment to Rusted Gate, according to her board of directors biography, will safeguard small farming in the region for years to come.

East of Eagle Point, says Shannon, are another 260 acres under Rusted Gate’s management. And the organization recently added more than 660 acres of ranch land zoned exclusive farm use adjacent to Upper Klamath Lake. Never tilled nor fertilized, this meadow landscape will nourish a new meat program in the works at Rusted Gate.

Enterprises such as cattle and hay that Rusted Gate inherited are self-sustaining, says Shannon. Supported by Alumbra and grant funding, the nonprofit details its history, vision, programs and products at rustedgatefarm.org.

Rusted Gate additionally conducts trials in its two apple orchards, one growing popular consumer varieties, the other heritage types prized for cooking and making cider. The farm also has an orchard of 800 oak trees inoculated with truffle spores. Given the right soil pH, the truffles should be ready to harvest in seven to 10 years.

If you go

Orchards, ranches, vineyards, diversified farms, even lavender fields and apiaries make up the itinerary for this year’s Farm Tour. The free, self-guided event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Download the map and brochure with site addresses and contact information at roguevalleyfarmtour.com, which also hosts virtual tours of 11 participating businesses, including Rogue Creamery and Rise Up! Artisan Bread.

Participants who download, print and complete the Farm Tour’s “pollinator scavenger hunt” activity can enter to win a gift basket containing $100 in goodies from local farms. Tour organizers are the Ashland and Medford food co-ops and nonprofit Rogue Valley Food System Network.