Diners learn about plowing history at August congregate gathering

With Wellington County hosting the 2016 International Plowing Match and Rural Expo (IPM) in September, Seniors’ Centre for Excellence program coordinator Helen Edwards elected to focus on plowing history at the August congregate dining program.

The event, held in Palmerston, featured  Wellington County Museum and Archives program assistant Kyle Smith’s presentation titled  Under the Plow, Furrow into Your History.

Smith began by stating, “The plow was the most important invention influencing society. This simple piece of equipment was a builder of civilization, shaper of our world, and the IPM is a celebration of this great invention.”

In Europe the early design of a plow was a simple hoe and digging stick which cut furrows in the soil for seeding. The aeration of the soil produced a more productive soil. Early plows worked well in soft soil but harder soils required a heavier plow and oxen to pull it. The work was exhausting and slow. Most farmers could not afford oxen so a communal style farm evolved comprised of small plots of land. Early plows were also often pulled by people.

The Black Death, Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment brought changes to agriculture. With many farmers living in impoverished conditions, Europeans sought out a new life in North America. Land was plentiful, available and hope prevailed.

Between the 19th and 20th centuries inventors produced tractors that were able to plow land not previously used in agricultural production. The 1930s Dust Bowl frustrated farmers as equipment was available but the lack of rain and loss of topsoil made the land unworkable.

The Green Revolution following the Depression saw scientists and agricultural colleges researching methods to make farming more efficient with the use of various sprays, including pesticides and herbicides.

“Plowing matches are as old as plowing itself. Matches started any time that two men competed to see who could plow a field the fastest and straightest,” Smith said.

“By the 1800s rules and regulations were drawn up for plowing competitions. Over 300,000 people attend the Irish National Ploughing Championships held each year. The IPM draws approximately 75,000 spectators.”

The first documented match in Ontario occurred in 1846. By 1913 the competition took a form similar to today’s event. Competitors are judged on their plowing ability in different classes, including horse and mule, tractor – two furrows, antique tractor and junior division. Points are earned for straightness, cut, uniformity, coverage of grass and stubble, closeness, packing and firmness.

Since its inception in 1913 Wellington County has hosted five matches. The first to host was the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph in 1915, followed by the Beatty Brothers, Fergus in 1937; Jack M. Gilchrist Farm, Guelph in 1968; JD Ross and neighbours, Teviotdale in 1984; and Lewis and Mae Day along with Morris Day, Erwin G. Musselman and neighbouring farmers, Elora  in 2000. This year’s hosts are Earl and Anne Schneider, Harriston.

A longstanding competition in conjunction with the IPM is the Queen of the Furrow.  Young ladies aged 16 to 25 compete for the prestigious title. Contestants are judged on their interview and plowing skills, speech presentation, how they present themselves in public, enthusiasm and confidence. The winner acts as role model for other young women and provides encouragement to future generations of leaders in the field of agriculture.

Past IPM souvenirs included collector plates, windmills, plow paper weights, clocks and other knick-knacks. Collectors at the 2016 match will have the opportunity to purchase clothing, collector trucks, umbrellas, tumblers and tractor seats.

“The county will be showcased under two huge tents. Everything from music to quilts to antiques will be featured,” Smith said. “The [OPP] will be on hand to walk interested persons through a demonstration on the proper use of a roundabout. An 80-foot zipline will take riders over a map of Wellington County on the ground below. Each township will be planted in different flowers.”

Smith’s presentation included photographs of previous plowing matches in the county. In addition to his presentation on plowing, Smith also provided a demonstration of antique butter moulds, paddles and presses, a nutmeg grater, peanut butter can, sheep bell and a chick feeder.