Ploughing reunion: World competition brings international friends together

For many competitors, coaches and spectators in the World Ploughing Organization, the annual world ploughing competition can be more like a family reunion than a competition.

Competitors from 28 countries participated in the 2019 competition, which was held in Lake of the Woods last weekend on the Arnesen family farmland two miles south of Baudette.

The United States has not held a world championship since 1988, and likely won’t again for decades. Last year’s event was in Germany, and next year’s event will be held in Russia.

This prestigious international competition brings together the world’s best ploughers in a celebration of farming traditions, in which the participants must prove their mastery, expertise and attention to detail. The competitors are the best of the best due to each having to win their respective countries’ contests to qualify for the worldwide contest, and are all vying for the coveted golden plough.

Since competitive ploughing is a relatively niche sport, many of the competitors and their families see each other year after year, and through the World Ploughing Organization, they have formed friendships from all over the world.

While ploughers were busy practicing during the week leading up to competition, their families and other visitors were busy touring northern Minnesota.

On Tuesday, the Falls was their destination. Visitors were taken on the grand boat tour leaving from the Rainy Lake Visitors Center, toured Koochiching County Museums, visited shops around the Falls area, had lunch at Hardee’s, and took a group picture by the Minnesota sign.

At Hardee’s, languages from all over the world could be heard, while visitors poured in from their tour bus to order their lunches. All wore nametags labeled with their respective countries.

Sitting at a table laughing with representatives from the Canadian ploughing team, Helen Coulter, of Northern Ireland, described the event as a bit of a reunion and noted that of the usual participants, only teams from Finland and Russia were missing.

She explained there are two categories in the competition: grassland and stubble, and the competitors use either the reversible ploughing or conventional ploughing method.

The reversible plough or “rollover plow” has two ploughs mounted back-to-back, one turning to the right, the other to the left. While one is working the land, the other is carried upside-down in the air. At the end of each row, the paired ploughs are turned over, so the other can be used.

Coulter’s husband, Ronnie Coulter, is the coach for the Northern Ireland ploughing team. Her son, James Coulter, is ploughing in the world championship for the first time. She is hoping for a top ten placement for him, which she said is attainable because there are only 37 teams or so.

He ended the reversible ploughers’ competition in fifth place.

Sitting next to Coulter at the table was Keith Davenport, former Canadian ploughing judge. He and his wife traveled the shortest distance, besides the American competitors, to get to this year’s competition, and described himself as being from “just across the crick.”

Participating in a world ploughing competition can be a costly affair. “Many (ploughers) have to self-fund, it’s an expensive operation,” Coulter explained. There is no prize money affiliated with the competition.

Davenport estimated that a little under half of the competitors shipped their equipment to the United States for the competition.

The Coulters brought their own plow which could be packaged and shipped fairly easily and borrowed their tractor from local farmers. Coulter’s son needed two visas, one American and one Canadian because he had to pick up his equipment in Canada and then travel to the United States.

Each country is required to send a judge for the competition, many send two ploughing teams, one reversible and one conventional, and a coach.

“It’s a team effort,” Coulter said, but added laughing, “We’re the supporters, we’re the important ones.”

Across from Davenport at the table sat Kerry and Noreen Jamison, also of Northern Ireland.

Kerry Jamison’s father and Noreen Jamison’s husband, Adrian Jamison, is the governing board member of the World Ploughing Organization from Northern Ireland.

This is Kerry Jamison’s second world ploughing competition and at 15 years old, she was likely the youngest person in the room.

“She’s here to keep us right,” Coulter said about Jamison, laughing.

On the other side of the room, Coulter gestured for Vicki Miller, of New Zealand, to join the conversation.

Miller is the wife of Collin Miller, the chairman of the World Board from New Zealand. She’s been to about 13 world competitions so far. This was her first time in the U.S., outside of being in an airport — she noted that she hates LAX.

In Minnesota, she found herself surprised by the vastness of the landscape, and how big everything seems here.

The mantra for the World Ploughing Organization is “Pax Arva Colat,” which is Latin for “let peace cultivate the land”.

Coulter displayed on her cellphone a picture of a quilt made by the mother of Gene Gruber. Gruber, of Richmond, is one of two United States competitors and the 2018 U.S. Plowing Champion.

Stitched along the bottom of the quilt is the organization’s motto, along with flags from every participating country in 2019.

“Let peace cultivate the land,” is a fitting motto, as it seems, friendship and peace is just as important to the competitors as ploughing.
Click here for more info on the 2019 World Ploughing Contest
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