BAUDETTE, Minn. – Flags representing 28 countries anchored in wheat field stubble near Baudette flapped in the breeze as competitors vied for the title of World Ploughing champion on Friday, Aug. 30.
The World Ploughing Contest – the European spelling for "plowing" is used – is expected to draw thousands of people during its three-day run, said Joe Henry, Lake of the Woods Tourism executive director. Six hundred acres of grassland and wheat stubble are being used in the competition, which continues through Saturday, Aug. 31. The Arnesen family, owners of Rocky Point Resort Lodge, Lake of the Woods, donated the use of their land for the event, Henry said.
Competitors who came to Baudette throughout the summer to practice for the competition reminded Henry of the many anglers who compete in local walleye tournaments because they “dial down,” figuring out every detail, he said.
“It’s really competitive. Many of these contestants have shipped their tractors and equipment,” Henry said.
The reversible plowing and conventional plowing divisions in the contest are judged by criteria including depth and straightness of the furrow, so it’s an advantage for competitors to use tractors and equipment with which they are familiar.
The annual event is being held in the United States for the first time in 31 years. It drew plowman and their cheering sections to Baudette from countries from around the globe including Russia, Africa and Macedonia. Meanwhile, the United States, Canada and several Euoropean countries – including Ireland, France and Germany – are represented in Baudette.
Last year’s champion, Eamon Tracey of Ireland, had his tractor and two-bottom plow shipped from his County Carlow farm for the competition.
“It left in June,” said Tracey’s wife Alish as she watched her husband carefully steer his tractor – with a pot of of white, yellow and orange carnations on the front – down the furrow he was plowing.
Tracey, 52, was competing for his fourth title in the conventional plowing division.
“He started at 16,” Alish Tracey said. Her husband has competed in 23 World Ploughing Contests. Eamon Tracy also competes in plowing contests in Ireland every weekend from January to April.
After watching her husband compete in contests at several levels, Alish Tracey has a good sense of when he’s doing well. She liked what she saw during the competition in Baudette.
“It’s all got to do with straightness and uniformity,” she said.
Down the field from the Traceys, Eva Gruber was watching her husband, Gene, plow a section of the stubble. Gene Gruber, 2017 World Ploughing Contest winner in the conventional division and eight-time national winner, was using the plow he modified especially for the world competition near Baudette.
After practicing in a field near Baudette earlier this summer Gruber, a welder and fabricator, made plow shares out of plastic for the world competition. Soil was sticking too much to the metal plow shares Gruber used previously, said Leo Schlangen, a friend of Gruber. Schlangen was one of a couple of dozen of Gruber’s supporters who came to watch him compete.
Eva Gruber, wearing a red T-shirt with a USA flag on it, said her husband is serious about competing and made the trip from Richmond, Minn., to Baudette twice this summer to practice.
“It’s his hobby. He doesn’t hunt and he doesn’t fish, he doesn’t Sno-Cat and he doesn’t golf. This is what he does,” she said. ”It’s a huge honor to be plowing in his own state and to be plowing in the United States.”
Marvin Goplan, another member of Gruber’s cheering section, said he competed in the World Ploughing Contest three times, taking up the hobby at the urging of his friend. Goplan’s advice for winning plowing techniques is simple.
“Plow like Gene does,” Goplan said.
But plowing is harder than it looks, said Dale Dircksen, 2019 World Ploughing Contest winner in the reversible division.
“It’s fun. It’s challenging just because of the different dirt," said Dircksen.
The soil in Baudette is sandier than that on his Union City, Ohio, farm. Meanwhile, plowing competitors have to line up their sights on poles at the other end of the field when they strike out plowing, rather than using a modern technique, such as GPS.
Plowing contests, like all competitions, have rules. It was the job of contest steward Lynn McDonald, of Olds, Alberta, to make sure no rules were broken.
“I’m watching for anything the plowman shouldn’t do,” McDonald said.
For example: “They always should get off of the tractor on their left.”
Meanwhile, competitors aren’t allowed to tramp on the furrow and the event is timed, he said.
World Ploughing Championship contestants will compete again Saturday, Aug. 31, this time on grassland. Gates open at 8 a.m. and the contest will begin at 10 a.m.