9/11/2010 2:00 PM
By Ayleen Stellhorn, Southcentral Pa. Correspondent
WILLIAMS GROVE, Pa. — With wheat harvested and corn not quite ready to be cut, farmers from nine states took the day off — not to relax poolside or play a round of golf — but to plow.
The National Plowing Contest, sponsored by the United States Plowing Organization (USAPO) and hosted by the Williams Grove Historical Steam Engine Association and the Pennsylvania Plowing Association (PPA), welcomed 37 contestants to an 80-acre field south of the state’s capital this past Friday.
Under hazy sunshine and temperatures in the mid-90s, they pulled plows behind tractors, showcasing the best plowing skills in the country.
At the end of the day, Kevin Albrecht of Marion, S.D., (first place, small plow class) and Ron Fischer of Wapakoneta, Ohio, (first place, reversible class) walked away with bragging rights to best plowmen in the United States, $75, a trophy and the opportunity to attend the World Plowing Contest in Sweden this spring.
Albrecht, who is planning to attend the competition in Sweden, operates a 400-acre family farm where he grows corn, beans, hay and grass to support a herd of 40 Angus cattle. While he sees the contest as mostly for fun, he sees a correlation between the attention to detail in the contest and attention to detail in a farming operation.
“Small things make a farm more profitable,” he said.
Fischer, a retired industrial engineer, farms four acres of soybeans and wheat in Ohio. He and several other family members caravanned to this year’s event from Ohio, hauling tractors and plows with them.
“This is part of our family entertainment,” he said. “I have a son who plows, and a brother and a good friend, so we all head out together.”
Fischer opted out of traveling to Sweden, which made Gene Elphic of Hampton, Iowa, who placed second in the reversible class, eligible for the world-level competition.
Other first-place winners included Ron Kremer of Versailles, Ohio, who won the open class competition; and Jim Peternell of Shevlin, Minn. Peternell took top honors in the antique class on a 1936 Oliver Hart-Parr Model 70 tractor that he still uses to farm portions of 15 acres of land near the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
Contestants — mostly farmers, retired farmers and machine enthusiasts — competed by “dropping bottoms” in four classes: open, small plow, reversible and antique.
Open class plows have two or more moldboards; small have two or three; reversible moldboards must be turned after each row; and antiques must be American made, mechanically operated and manufactured in 1938 or earlier.
Each contestant in the antique and open classes plowed a 264-foot-long by 40- or 80-foot-wide plot; those in the small plow and reversible classes plowed a 300-foot-long by 55-foot-wide tract.
Judges picked winners based on the opening split, the depth and straightness of the furrows, weed control, neat ins and outs at the ends of rows, and the finishing furrow. Laser beams, GPS devices, markers or attachments that measure or manipulate furrows are not allowed.
“That finishing furrow is important,” said Charles Noonan, a retired farmer from York, Pa., a member of the PPA’s board of directors and a four-time national plow champion. “It must curve toward the plot to keep rain water in, just like in the field.”
According to Bob Miller, PPA president, plowing contests were first established to show farmers how to work their equipment more efficiently.
“Time is key,” Miller said, “and if you can’t work your plow properly, you’re going to spend a lot of unnecessary time in the field.”
While traditional plowing may be losing ground to no-till and minimum-till practices in many areas of the country, USAPO President David Postlethwait of Iowa noted that the national plow contest focuses on skills that are important to any successful farming venture.
“It’s all about making sure the ground is ready to receive seed,” he said. “In this case, we focus on the soil conservation and preparation techniques that are used with this type of equipment.”
The National Plowing Contest held its first competition in 1939 in Correctionville, Iowa. Competitions at the state level in Pennsylvania started in 1948, and the World Plowing Contest has been in operation since 1953.
For more information about USAPO, visit www.usapo.org, or contact Bob Miller at 717-692-2443 to learn more about PPA.