A very unusual event comes to Baudette, Minn., Labor Day weekend.
From Friday, Aug. 30 through Sunday, Sept. 1, the Lake of the Woods area will host the 2019 World Ploughing Contest – held in the U.S. only once every few decades.
Around for 66 years, the World Ploughing Championship was last held in the United States in 1988.
Competitors from 32 countries are shipping two- or three-bottom moldboard plows, tractors and equipment to the U.S. this summer. From the East or West Coast, trains will bring the farm equipment to Minneapolis/St. Paul or perhaps Winnipeg where semis will pick up these traditional earth-turning tools.
Then it’s on to Baudette, where plowing masters will begin to arrive in early August to prepare for the World Ploughing event.
Oh, the sights they’ll see in Minnesota’s Northland! Wide swaths of trees and lakes and farmland interspersed with small towns give way to the great Lake of the Woods that goes on as far as the eye can see.
Fishing, hiking, boating and loafing are all there.
So, resorts, hotels and campgrounds are offering pleasant accommodations for those who travel north to see this event. Organizers are planning for 30,000 visitors to come to the 2019 event. The communities of Baudette, Warroad, Roseau, Thief River Falls, Bemidji and International Falls are all opening their doors to guests.
“We’re going to put on one heck of a show and it’s going to be fun,” said Joe Henry, director of tourism for Lake of the Woods, and outdoor sports enthusiast and journalist.
About the U.S. team
Delegates from European countries tend to dominate this competition – and so the United Kingdom spelling for turning the earth, ploughing, is used at the worldwide event rather than the plowing spelling. Ploughing contests are especially popular in Ireland where up to 300,000 people may attend the national event. That’s 10 times the number expected to attend this year’s world contest.
Representing the United States in 2019 are Gene Gruber of Richmond, Minn., and Dale Dircksen of Union City, Ohio. These amazing individuals and their families are committed to working year around on their equipment and practicing their skills. They also travel the world on a yearly basis to attend the international competition.
Many people may have heard of the Gruber family from Stearns County.
The patriarch of this family is Werner Gruber who began competing in two-bottom or three-bottom plowing contests back in the 1960s. Werner just passed away on May 27, 2019, leaving behind two generations that also love this sport. He and his wife Marilyn, have many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The plowers were primarily their sons, Henry and Conrad, who competed on a world level when there was a limit to how many times a person could participate. That rule was been done away with in recent years.
Competing now is son Gene as well as his and his wife, Eva’s, daughter, Hailey, 16. Rounding out their family is Kaitlyn, who attends college.
Plowing competition is broken down into three or four categories – small plow, large plow with four or more furrows, horse drawn plows and antique plowing. Currently, the world hosts only small plow and reversible plow competitions.
The goal of the small plow contests – the Gruber family’s event – is to create the perfect one-third-of-an-acre plot. The contest is held on two days – one day for plowing stubble, a second day for plowing sod.
Each competitor has 20 minutes to make his or her opening split. The opening split is judged on the completeness of cutting through the sod and the width of the split. It can be no more than 3 or 4 inches deep. A straight and uniform split with no trash is desired.
Once the initial split is judged, the competitor has two hours and 40 minutes to plow the remaining plot.
Next comes the crown, also known as the ridge or middle. Eight furrows are made on each side of the opening furrow. Within the crown, there can be no stubble or grass visible. The crown must also be straight and uniform.
Typically each furrow is 7-8 inches deep, and at least 12 inches wide depending on the soil-type and amount of topsoil. The furrow slices must rest against each other and conform to the other furrow slices.
The last three rounds are called the finish and involve closing the furrows. When the plowing is completed, there should be only one tractor wheel track visible. The plow can never be raised out of position.
The judges grade the furrows on neatness, regularity and general appearance with no mistakes.
From there, worldwide champions are announced. The U.S. national contest will be held on Sept. 1 near Baudette to see who will compete in the 2020 World Ploughing Contest in Russia.
“This kind of farming was really what was used around the turn of the 1900s, and that’s when farming started becoming efficient and it was a very critical time to our worldwide agriculture,” said Henry. “Plowing and this competition are very near and dear to people who are involved in farming and ag.”
For anyone who would like to attend the 2019 World Ploughing Contest, the ticket cost is $15 per day. Many more details are available at https://lakeofthewodsman.com/world-ploughing-2019. To learn more about Lake of the Woods tourism, call 800-382-FISH (3474) or visit https://lakeofthewoodsmn.com.