PHOTOS — Olds event plowed into record books

The aroma of freshly turned soil and a cairn bearing 30 stones remain on the site where the world’s most highly skilled plowers tested their mettle during the past weekend.

OLDS COLLEGE — The aroma of freshly turned soil and a cairn bearing 30 stones remain on the site where the world’s most highly skilled plowers tested their mettle during the past weekend.

The 60th-annual World Plowing Contest, held on Friday and Saturday, brought national winners from five continents for an event that one of its organizers described on Sunday as a country fair combined with an Olympic-calibre sporting event.

Jordan Cleland, vice-president advancement for Olds College, said the plowing competition was one of the “capstone” events organized to help the college celebrate its 100th anniversary.

There is little doubt that some of those first students fron 1913 learned their skills on the same plots that were worked during the competition by plowers from 30 different countries.

Cleland said he was surprised to see the event attract more than twice as many people as were anticipated, with paid admissions unofficially tallied at 4,000 on Friday and 7,000 on Saturday.

Along with that surprise, Cleland said he was delighted to see a first-place and second-place awards go the only two women entered in the competition.

Barbara Klaus of Austria won first place in conventional plowing, followed by Fabian Landre of France and Eamonn Tracey of the Republic of Ireland. Top three in the reversible category were John Whelan from the Republic of Ireland, Margareta Heigl of Austria and Thomas Cochrane of Northern Ireland.

Canadians placed in the top third in both classes, with Brian Fried placing seventh in reversible and Barry Timbers placing 10th in conventional.

Cleland said he was also warmed by the camaraderie shown among competitors who came from countries that have long histories of political acrimony.

For example, competitors from former Soviet Bloc countries, including Croatia, Slovenia, Kosovo and Lithuania practised and worked alongside plowers from Russia.

Cleland said he had heard that the championship event on Friday and Saturday was Kosovo’s first international competition since it was recognized as an independent nation.

Following a long-standing tradition, each country brought a stone which was then contributed to the cairn erected at the site, said Cleland. Olds is the only site in WPC history that is home to two such cairns, having hosted the competition in 1986 as well as in 2013.

Representatives from Kenya characterized the event at both art and sport, with only a modest relevance to common farming practices.

Alice Kalya, chair of the Agricultural Society of Kenya and Paul Njuguna, chair of the Kenya Plowing Organization, had arrived in Canada a week before the competition to support their team: Simon Otidi Oroni on the reversible plow and Joshua Kiptim Kigen on the conventional plow.

Kalya and Njuguna said that, unlike some of the Europeans, their plowers found the heavy, black soil at Olds to be quite similar to the soil at home.

Plowing competitions are originate from the importance of preparing of a good seedbed, said Kalya.

Competitors are judged on 12 different parameters, including straightness and depth of their furrows and the precision with which they start and finish each row.

Plots were worked from the outside toward the centre, requiring that the plowers keep an even width from start to finish so the last furrow draws exactly through the middle.

Competitors were seen leaving their tractors at times to measure the width between the two sides of their plot in case corrections were needed.

Veteran competitor Ian Smith of Australia, one of the judges for the 2013 competition, said the first thing he looks for in the grassland competition is whether there are blades of grass sticking up between the fresh furrows. Points are deducted for each spot where the plow has missed, said Smith.

While precision plowing was the focal point for the event, it was wrapped in a package that bore a remarkable resemblance to an old-time country fair, including horse plowing, tractor pulls, line dancing, dog demonstrations, beer gardens, antique tractors and a variety of live entertainment.

Olds College had bid for the 2013 competition both to celebrate its past and to raise its profile on the world stage, said Cleland.

He believes it worked.