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Scottish, European, Vintage and Five nations Ploughing Championships
by Peter Small
The annual Scottish Ploughing championships take place on October 23rd and 24th at Upper Nisbet, Jedburgh by permission of Robert Neill and Partners. This year Scotland is proud to host the European Vintage Competition and the Five Nations Match. Visiting competitors and spectators will get the chance to visit one of Scotland's most beautiful areas, where high standards of agricultural husbandry and visitor attractions will be on show.
Two days of competition ploughing will see over 150 competitors turn over the 250 acres of ground in tidy fashion. Once again this match, which has become a must attend event on the rural calendar is sponsored by New Holland.
Competition ploughing is now the fastest growing rural pursuit with local matches occurring through September until April all over the country. These matches began in the 1700s during the period of the agricultural improvements. They were a means of improving the ploughing skills of the farm labourers and were promoted by land owners and agriculturists. The art of ploughing was recognised as important for crop production helping make a quality seedbed as a basis for crop establishment and healthy growth. It was also deemed of importance for burying weeds and disease again to help healthy crop growth.
These old matches of course saw horses draw the plough but today the aims of good ploughing remain the same for the tractor drawn versions. Thanks to enthusiasts of heavy horse breeds horse ploughing is still carried out at matches and the Scottish is no different with pairs going on both days.
Brightly decorated teams with their manes and tails pleated, harness polished, draw chains jingling and decorations fluttering in the breeze make a grand spectacle.
Other classes to draw a crowd are the vintage ones, where the tractors and ploughs of old turn as neat a furrow as anyone. In the Scottish match classes exist for the old pre hydraulic trailing ploughs, the early mounted variety and the later types from the classic period of the 1960s and 70s. This classic period also has a reversible class, where these rudimentary ploughs with mechanical trips compete.
This vintage element has the added edge of the European Championships being held on the Saturday when competitors from all over the continent arrive in Scotland for the pre match practice. Three classes are included in this section with David Milton of Keith representing Scotland in the Trailing Class, John Bathgate of Dunbar in the Mounted Class and Gullane's John Tait is our reversible representative.
Further visitors will compete in the Five Nations Competition, where they will use modern equipment in their quest for glory. Scotland's Gordon Rae of Lockerbie will compete against the finest from the Republic of Ireland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the Conventional Class whilst the reversible representative for Scotalnd is John D Fraser of Alness.
Modern tractors and ploughs go in the first day in various classes for both conventional and reversible ploughing. The reversibles will have a multi furrow class for the outfits that work on the modern farm, while further classes exist for the ploughs fitted out with all sorts of gadgetry to get the best job. Both Straights and butts styles take place, this last discipline is the standard used at the World Championships every year.
The 2010 match was held in New Zealand where Scotland's representatives were Andy Greenhill of Perth and Andrew Mitchell of Forfar who was the Conventional Runner Up. He will go in the General Purpose Class on the Saturday alongside others who use match ploughs of great complexity. All the these conventional and reversible ploughmen hope to qualify for the Plough Offs on the Sunday, where the winners will get the chance to represent Scotland at next years World Championships in Sweden.
If match ploughing is not what commercial farmers are looking for then there will be a large range of modern tractors and ploughs being demonstrated by local firms. This part of the event will allow farmers the chance to see what's on offer today in a working environment. There will also be a selection of trade stands offering a wide range of goods and services.
Members of the Borders Vintage Agricultural association will put on a working demonstration of ploughing and cultivation techniques and period machinery that would have been used on Border farms in the past. Add to this food and craft stalls and a fun fair and you have a great weekend for all the family.
The site at Upper Nisbet is easily accessed off the main A68 trunk road and will be signposted. Car parking and admission for under14 year olds is free. The admission charges for adults are £6 and concessions are £4. Details at: www.scotplough.co.uk