Olds College, located at Olds, Alta. was recently the site of the 60th World Plowing Championship on July 19-20, an event that was added to a year-long list of events and celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of the college. This is the sixth time that Canada has hosted the event and the first time in 10 years.
The event was certainly a boon for the college and province, with approximately 60 competitors from 30 different countries, while in total there were 400 international delegates to swoop into Olds for the event. Olds College President Dr. H.J (Tom) Thompson, in his address to Olds College alumni celebrating the 100th anniversary of the college this weekend, described the plowing competition as a celebration of people, of the land and of world peace.
The competition takes place with tractor-pulled two- or three-furrow mould board plows, with separate competitions for conventional and reversible plows. Any form of marker or GPS equipment is prohibited, while other restrictions limit the size of the tailpiece and the number of plow wheels allowed.
The competition took place over two days, with the first day consisting of plowing on stubble, while on the second day competitors were tested on their skills in plowing grassland. The plot size for the conventional plow competition is 100 meters X 20 meters, while the plot size for the reversible plow competition is 100 meters X 24 meters at its widest point.
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Those that live for the action of fast-paced sporting events might be restless at an event such as this. When the green light went off to start the grassland plowing competition that I attended, very few tractors moved down the field. Most operators were tinkering and adjusting prior to turning a wheel. When they did move forward, they'd move 10 feet, get off with their wrenches and make further adjustments -- a process that never ended. They have 2 hours and 40 minutes to plow their plot of land.
The competition does involve high levels of skill, with the competitor's work evaluated on various factors such as straightness, general appearance, neatness and regularity, which includes no wheel marks, uniformity and conformity, weed control and seed bed preparation, just to name a few.
I found the stories of the organizers and planners of the competition most fascinating. Contestants started arriving in Olds up to six weeks prior to the competition. Around half of the contestants had their tractors and/or plows shipped by container to Olds from overseas, while others settled for borrowing one or both. Rules allow contestants to practice in a 30-kilometer radius of the site, most often on land arranged by the organizing committee. For weeks on end, contestants were setting out daily to practice for this event.
The package also included various excursions for the delegates. Five hundred international delegates were bused to places like the Calgary Stampede, Banff and a Hutterite Colony for tours and demonstrations of western culture. Fun aside, these men and women take this competition seriously. Many contestants have a list of sponsors, with some also having significant support from their respective governments.
In all, it was expected that some 12,000 people would attend the event, while thousands more got the opportunity to watch parts of the competition live online. Along with the competition was a demonstration of heavy horse plowing, a vintage tractor display and tractor pull, as well as a trade show with equipment from various manufacturers.
Canada's Barry Timbers from Ontario placed tenth overall in the conventional class, while Brian Fried, also of Ontario, took home seventh place in the reversible plow competition. More results and information can be found at worldploughing.org.
Upon returning home from the event, I had an interesting discussion about the event with an elderly gent who was born and raised in Scotland. When he himself was a kid on the farm in Scotland, his father competed in local plowing competitions with a horse-drawn team and won many medals competing. This is an event that has deep roots in the agriculture industry in many areas of the world.
Cliff Jamieson can be reached at email@example.com
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