Minnesota teen finishes sixth at World Ploughing Championship

RICHMOND, Minn. —Sixteen-year-old Hailey Gruber took sixth place in the 2018 World Series of Plowing. The event, which is officially called the World Ploughing Championship, took place in Hofgut Einsiedel Germany on Sept. 1 and 2.

Sixty-some competitors from 30 countries competed in the World Ploughing Organization’s 65th annual competition. Gruber, who was the youngest competitor and one of only two women, came out ahead of competitors from Estonia, Kenya, Scotland, Macedonia, and other countries in her competitive category of conventional plowing. Eamon Tracey, of the Republic of Ireland, was the World Champion of Conventional Ploughing.

“There are two different kinds of competitive plowing: conventional and reversible,” Hailey said. “With conventional plowing, you do your opening split which is two passes up and down the field. You make one furrow and then you come back and make two furrows.”

To prepare for the competition, Hailey spent countless hours practicing.

“Before the World competition I’d practice three to four times a week for about three hours each night,” she said.

Then, in late July, Hailey put her Case Farmall 55 tractor and her Kvemeland competition plow in a 20-foot shipping container and sent it to Germany.

“It was there when we arrived,” Hailey, who traveled with her father, Gene, said.

Hailey and Gene arrived in Germany two weeks before the competition. When she got to Hofgut Einsiedel, Hailey set to work practicing. She practiced her technique every day.

“I didn’t know how well I’d do and then, at practice, everybody was so good I wasn’t sure about myself,” she said.

On the first day of competition, competitors plow in stubble. On the second day, they plow in grass land.

“To get a good score, you’re looking for the uniformity of the furrow so that the furrows on each side look the same,” she said.

“The competition starts about 9 o’clock and we get 20 minutes to do an opening split and everybody has to be done at 9:20,” Hailey said. “The judges get an hour to judge the opening splits and then we start up again at 10:20. We get two hours and forty minutes to do the rest of our plots. That includes the crown, general plowing, and a dead furrow.”

Hailey’s sixth place was sealed with 173 points — only half a point behind fifth-place Jarmo Itälehto of Finland.

Hailey’s mentor is her dad, who was world champion in 2017 when the World contest was held in Kenya. In fact, she was inspired to become a competitor in the local, state, country and international competitions by Gene.

“Hailey would watch me practice and practice and then she asked me when she could start plowing,” Gene said with pride. “That fall, when she was seven, she bought an old Ford tractor and plow and used that for two years,” Gene said. “Then she outgrew it and we got her something better.”

It wasn’t too surprising that a member of the Gruber family started competitive plowing at an early age. Gene started when he was 14.

“My dad was plowing competitively back in the ‘50s and ‘60’s,” he said. “Then my brothers, my sister and I all plowed. Hailley is the third generation of Grubers to plow.”

Hailey and Gene, along with other family members, have always been involved in the local and state plowing organizations. Gene and Hailey have also been regular competitors in the national competition. In fact, to compete in the World Ploughing competition, you have to be one of two winners of the national competition, which is sponsored by the United States Plowing Organization in Marion Iowa.

In the early years of Gene’s competitive plowing, he didn’t own a competitive quality plow. He often did well in the nationals, but only middling in the World Ploughing Chmpionship. He plowed in Austria, Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland before he decided to get his own competitive plow and go for the gold.

“My brother and I worked hard and we were getting closer and closer,” he said. “In 2010, I plowed in New Zealand and I broke the top ten. I took ninth place. That was a big accomplishment for us. A couple of years later, I plowed in Alberta, Canada and broke the top five. Then I got fourth at the world competition in Denmark. In Kenya I won both days of the competition. That was the first time in the 64-year history of the World Plowing Contest that the U.S. had won the gold.”

Winning a plowing competition is exacting. Plowing a straight furrow is a number-one priority at the world contest.

“We plow 330 feet and you’ll vary an inch left to right,” Gene says. “You may drive straight, but your plow may shift. You’re plowing perpendicular to the way the field was farmed, so it’s a little rough. That’s a challenge. You probably get off the tractor close to 100 times during competition to measure your width and depth and to make adjustments on the plow.”

Gene says that he works on his plowing year-around. When he can, he’s on his tractor fine-tuning his technique. When the ground freezes, he’s in his shop working on the equipment. Both he and Hailey agree that it’s all fun, not work. They also agree that having plowing friends all over the world has enriched their lives.

2019 world championship takes place in Minnesota


The 2019 World Ploughing Championship will be held near Baudette, Minn., not far from the shores of Lake of the Woods, according to Anna Marie McHugh, general secretary of the World Plowing Organization. After visiting the Baudette area from County Kildare in the Republic of Ireland, McHugh said she thought that the Lake of the Woods site (which was selected by the United States Plowing Organization) was an excellent choice.

“Once the World Ploughing Organization representatives visited the venue, we could quickly agree that Lake of the Woods was an ideal location for the world ploughing contest,” she said. “We met with a number of representatives from local tourist boards and we met the head person from Lake of the Woods Tourism and Henry Gruber, the chief organizer for USA 2019. Everyone was very efficient, capable and had a very comprehensive plan for the event.”

McHugh said that she expects that a couple thousand spectators will attend the annual international event. The spectators will be in addition to 60 competitive plowing teams from around 30 different countries. The plowing teams require a flat stone-free field of approximately 150 acres for practice plowing and the actual competition. The site also must have a large adjacent area for competitors to park their tractors and assemble their tractors and plows.

McHugh says that the competitive plows are generally Kverneland with a few Lemken. But each plow is unique.

“If you look in detail at the individual plougher’s plough, each person has created a very unique machine — unique to them alone,” she said. “Every plougher has their own bit to add to plough. They mould it into the machine that they specifically wish to use. Every single competition plough is different in some way as the competitor has done a huge amount of engineering to make it the best they can. Each plough in the world contest really would be priceless. If a competitor had to use a new replacement plough, it may take them a lifetime to create again what they lost in the old plough.”

The World Plowing Organization was founded in Workington, Cumberland, England in 1952. The aim of the organization is to preserve and improve agricultural techniques — especially plowing — and to “foster a vigorous spirit of co-operation and enterprise in producing food for an increasing world population.”

The symbol of the World Plowing Organization is the Cairn of Peace.

“Basically, the idea is that in the World Ploughing Organization we all participate together in peace. We have a common ground and we are brought together through our mutual love and interest in the sport of ploughing and the land,” McHugh said. “We have some very special ceremonies during the contest programme including the unveiling of the cairn of peace which has the inscription, “let peace cultivate the land.” Around the cairn we place all the flags of the participating countries and we raise the flags at the opening ceremony — signaling the opening of the contest. And when the competition ends, we take down the flags during a ceremony as well.”

The 2019 World Ploughing Championship will take place Aug. 30 through Sept. 1. You can learn more by visiting lakeofthewoodsmn.com or worldploughing.org.


The article originated in THE LAND by Tim King

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