Monarch Tractor denied autonomous permit by Cal/OSHA

Karl Wente receives new Monarch Tractor
Wente winemaker Karl Wente receives the first production tractor from Monarch Tractors. | Image credit: Mike Oitzman

Monarch Tractor, maker of the fully electric, driver-optional smart tractor, continues to drive farming toward a smart digital future.

For the last few years, Monarch Tractor has been working closely with Cal/OSHA to amend Title 8, Section 3441(b) to clarify the use of driver-optional tractors without a human operator stationed on the vehicle, within a strict set of safety guidelines.

Today, the company learned its petition was denied by a 3:4 vote. In its proposed amendment, Monarch Tractor suggested that current regulations, which originated in the 1970’s, are outdated and ambiguous, not taking into account ongoing 21st century autonomous technology advances in tractors and other farm machinery.

The current regulations state “all self-propelled equipment shall, when under its own power and in motion, have an operator stationed at the vehicular controls.” Despite the ruling, Cal/OSHA and Monarch Tractor continue to work closely under a temporary experimental variance to gather data and clarify the safety regulations and establish a process with key milestones for the tech providers to follow specifically in farm environments where autonomous equipment is expected to work in close proximity to farm workers.

This decision by the regulatory agency is a setback for the entire autonomous agriculture industry, Monarch just happens to be one of the companies who are at the leading edge of this evolution in agriculture technology. The decision will impact the ability of all other autonomous agriculture providers.

For a company like Monarch, the decision from California is especially poignant as Monarch is the first all-electric, autonomous tractor to come to market. Monarch has worked closely with the California Air Resources board to get grants for several of its early customers to help defray the cost of pilot projects throughout the state.

“Monarch continues to advocate for the farmer and ensure access to the latest technology that will increase farm worker safety. The tractor driver seat is one of the most dangerous places on small farms with exposure to chemicals, harsh elements and equipment issues including implements,” said Praveen Penmetsa, co-founder & CEO, Monarch Tractor. “While an approval today would have expedited the regulation process and reduced paperwork and data sharing burden for Monarch and other OEMs, this ruling simply underscores that there is more work to be done under our current Cal/OSHA variance process and as the leader in farm automation technology, we will continue to work with Cal/OSHA on use cases where autonomous equipment is in close proximity to workers.”

Monarch Tractor will continue the deployment of its electric, driver-optional tractor, as well as continuing to work with farm and equipment partners to raise questions that will offer regulatory clarity. Continuing to shine a light on ambiguous, outdated regulations will ensure that the doors are always open to innovation, advancement, and progress in agriculture.

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Written by

Mike Oitzman

Mike Oitzman is Senior Editor of WTWH's Robotics Group, cohost of The Robot Report Podcast, and founder of the Mobile Robot Guide. Oitzman is a robotics industry veteran with 25-plus years of experience at various high-tech companies in the roles of marketing, sales and product management. He can be reached at