What if you could build a diesel engine equivalent to the strength of 600 horses that produced almost no emissions? It might seem like a futuristic dream, but it’s already been made possible thanks in part to the hard work of one sugarbeet farmer.
RaNae Isaak, an engineer at Cummins, has helped design more efficient engine systems for the tractors used on sustainable farms across the country. Her personal connection to agriculture has been a driving force behind her success.
“My history growing up always involved being around my family and doing what we loved, farming,” she says.
RaNae grew up on a farm in southeastern Idaho, where her family grew sugarbeets, alfalfa, grain, sorghum, and corn as well as raised livestock. This is where she was first introduced to the incredible mechanics and engineering that power farm vehicles.
RaNae recalls her father using a front end loader to lift one ton hay bales in an alfalfa field and load them on a flatbed semi-truck that she drove. Her father would give quick lessons on the farm’s machinery: how to operate machinery safely and maintain it so it kept working smoothly.
“I have always been intrigued by a challenge. Trying to figure out something complicated, understanding why things work, and how to fix them,” RaNae says. “I always enjoyed math and science, and routinely excelled. Being around agriculture just further identified a way for me to apply math and science.”
That love for agriculture, math, and science followed her to Idaho State, where she earned first a bachelor’s and then a master’s in mechanical engineering, and now fuels her work at Cummins, where she helps develop on-highway and off-highway engines.
In her 15 years at Cummins, one thing RaNae has learned is that building new technology is not easy. Especially farm technology. It needs to work efficiently and reliably in all types of conditions.
“Not only does the engine need to work and be productive, but it needs to work through extreme conditions. It needs to start when it’s incredibly cold, it needs to be cool when it’s oppressively hot, so it needs to be able to operate in all conditions,” RaNae says.
Not to mention, an engine is not just an engine, but an integral part of the entire vehicle system.
“Whether that be an agriculture tractor transferring the power and torque to the ground that pulls massive planting and harvesting equipment, or an irrigation pump that transfers water to hundreds of acres of crops in a dry environment,” RaNae explains. “It’s not just an engine system that must be designed, but in this case it’s a farm machine system that needs to be integrated in a way that performs the task the way the farmer needs done in that seasonal condition.”
Cummins has developed diesel engines that not only meet these requirements but do so with near-zero emissions. They’re also working on alternative off-highway engine solutions that use fuel sources such as natural gas, hydrogen fuel cells and electric batteries.
The results have been incredible.
“I am not sure people really understand how much emissions reduction has occurred over the last 30 years,” RaNae says. “If you think about this in accumulated emissions, it would take 25 tractors for a sugarbeet harvest today to equal the nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions produced by just one tractor in 1997.”
New, more efficient tractors can now harvest 100 acres with the same emissions it would have taken to harvest just one acre back then.
In other words, the tractors used by farmers today are radically better for our environment.
RaNae is proud to work for a company that is on the forefront of innovation and advocates for lower emissions throughout the supply chain. Her background in agriculture has strengthened her commitment to the environment.
“As a consumer of our agriculture, a designer of past and present engineering and a part of many farm family traditions, I realize the importance of our land, our livelihood, and the way things have been and could be,” RaNae says.
If you’re in Idaho, you just might see RaNae in a sugarbeet field behind the wheel of a tractor powered by a Cummins engine. She’s an Amalgamated Sugar shareholder and still makes time to help with planting and harvesting, when she isn’t working towards a more sustainable and climate-smart future.