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All geared up to make the earth move at Gladstone

Competitor’s at last year’s match in Gladstone. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV


For New Zealand farmers ploughing to improve soil quality for greater harvests was a vital part of farm life.

But in Gladstone last weekend, it was all about precision ploughing for competitors in the 65th annual Wairarapa Ploughing Match.

Ploughs are used to loosen or turn the soil in preparation for sowing seed and planting.

This brings fresh nutrients to the surface, while also breaking up and burying weeds and the remains of previous crops.

It’s an ancient practice originally carried out by people using crude, hand-held hoes.

As technology advanced, working animals such as oxen or horses were trained to pull the ploughs, with a person controlling the steering and depth of tilling from behind.

When the missionary, Reverend John Butler, set a plough behind a team of six bullocks in Kerikeri, Bay of Islands, in 1820, it was considered ground-breaking technology — literally.

Ploughing matches became popular across the country as the practice spread.

The first Wairarapa ploughing match was held in 1875 at Tauherenikau — entry cost five shillings.

Horse-drawn teams were also part of the mix last year. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

The Wairarapa Ploughing Match Committee was formed in 1910 and hosted its first match in June on the Glenmorven property near Greytown.

Prizes were awarded for the horse showing the most care and attention and for the best horse management.

The two world wars put a temporary stop to the games as the men who would normally enter were fighting abroad.

In 1953, the Wairarapa Ploughing Match Association was formed and continues to this day.

Today, ploughing is mainly done by farmers in tractors

Ian McSporran, a member of the New Zealand Ploughing Association executive, travelled from Napier to compete in the vintage section.

He started ploughing in the 1960s but stopped after moving to a hill country farm. He got back into the sporting side of things about seven or eight years ago.

“There’s quite a few aspects to it,” he said.

“Some people think it’s like watching paint dry, but when you understand the technical aspects of it, it’s not really.”

Most modern tractors can “practically drive themselves”, he said with a laugh.

There was a real knack to driving the vintage tractors which predate 1956 and offer no hydraulic assistance.

McSporran drove one of the vintage Caterpillars from his collection on Sunday.

“I’m still stuck in the old ages because I know them better,” he said.

The reason he kept coming back to compete was for the other ploughmen, who he described as a “great group”.

Wairarapa Ploughing Match Association president Gavin Jones. PHOTO/BECKIE WILSON

Wairarapa Ploughing Match Association secretary Barbara Wilson said she got involved with the sport because of her husband, Alan Wilson, a farmer who has served as the association’s treasurer for nearly 40 years.

She has been the association’s secretary since 2005.

“We keep doing it because everybody has always been involved in it,” she said.

In their years of involvement, they’d seen interest in the activity wane, with fewer and fewer young people coming through the ranks.

“There’s no young ones interested.

“It’s not the cool thing and a lot of people don’t plough their paddocks anymore.”

However, those competing in Sunday’s competition were highly skilled and many had competed at national level.

Each ploughed lot is judged against a strict criterion, including straightness, the firmness of the furrow, weed control, the neatness of the grass edge and the general appearance.

“It’s got to be turned over so there’s no grass showing,” Barbara Wilson said.

Whoever wins the title on Sunday will qualify for next year’s national championships in Takapau, Central Hawke’s Bay which will celebrate 200 years of ploughing in New Zealand.

Wilson said she was expecting about 16 competitors – about the same as last year — from Hamilton, Hawke’s Bay, and Manawatu to turn up at Gladstone this weekend.

Wairarapa Ploughing Match Association president Gavin Jones, who competed in his trusty AG 27 Fordson tractor, was expecting an interesting weekend.

“It’s got a cast iron radiator,” he said.

“It’s one of the first tractors I got, and I’ve just stuck with it.”

He hoped for fine weather after wet conditions forced the competition to be cancelled in 2017.

  • The event will be held on Sunday at 117 Gladstone Rd, Carterton. Ploughing commences at 10.30am and admission is by gold coin.

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