Lake of the Woods County is known for its fishing and forests — a year-round wonderland for those who enjoy the outdoors.
Come mid-August and through Labor Day weekend, it will become home base for thousands of international and out-of-state visitors attending the 2019 World Ploughing Competition. Competitors and their families, judges, and spectators from 32 countries will converge at Arnesen’s Rocky Point Resort south of Baudette for the 66th world competition Aug. 30-31. The Arenesens set aside 500 acres on their family farm specifically for it.
“Lake of the Woods Tourism and the entire community are very excited to be hosting this international event,” says Joe Henry, Lake of the Woods Tourism executive director. “It is an honor for Minnesota and for our area to represent the U.S. to such a diverse and international group of visitors.”
The World Ploughing Organization, which was established in the U.K. in 1952 to foster and preserve the art and skill of plowing, holds the world contest annually in a different country. Planning the event takes several years. In 2020, the contest is scheduled to be hosted in Russia. Last year it was held in Germany, and in 2017 it was in Kenya.
The international competition brings together the world’s best plowers, Henry says.
Courtesy of the World Ploughing CompetitionONCE EVERY 30 YEARS: The World Ploughing Competition is held in a different country every year. The U.S. last hosted the world contest in 1988 in Iowa. This is the second time it will be held in Minnesota. It was held prior to Farmfest in 1972.
“These competitors are the best of the best, with each having to win their respective countries’ contest to qualify for this worldwide contest,” he says. Only first place winners from each country compete in the world competition.
Henry notes that Lake of the Woods isn’t well known for its agricultural production.
“Lake of the Woods County actually has more than 40,000 acres of agricultural land,” he says. “Farmers in this region grow a variety of crops, including rye grass, soybeans, canola, sunflowers and more. The area is a top producer of rye grass seed that is shipped worldwide and is often used at the finest golf courses in the southern U.S.”
A lost art
With the current emphasis on minimal and no-till cropping, a contest focusing on using a moldboard plow might seem out of touch. Yet, there are strong nostalgic ties to the art and simplicity of cutting a straight, fragrant furrow that many appreciate and celebrate.
The contest allows only the basics: a two- or three-furrow plow with certain instruments, such as hydraulics, to adjust the plow. Use of GPS, laser beams, electronic remote control and other electronic devices are prohibited.
Competitors are required to plow one plot of stubble land and one plot of grassland. This year, it will be wheat and rye grass, respectively. Plots are 100 meters long by 20 meters wide (conventional plowing) and 100 meters long by 24 meters wide at one end and 16 meters wide at the other (reverse plowing).
Paula MohrCUSTOM WORK: Gene Gruber customizes each plow that he uses in competitions. Shown is his current effort, pulled by a Case JX85.
Judges award points based on various criteria, including the opening furrow, straightness, weed control, crown, furrow uniformity and firmness, neatness, lack of wheel marks, and time allotment. Depth varies depending on the field and conditions, but it is never less than 16 centimeters. Twenty minutes is allotted to open furrow and 2 hours and 40 minutes is given to plow the plot.
Following the two-day world competition in Baudette, the U.S. nationals, antique and other plowing competitions will be held.
Minnesota will be represented at the world competition by U.S. plowing champion Gene Gruber and his 16-year-old daughter, Hailey, from Eden Valley. The Gruber family has competed in plowing contests since the early 1960s when Gene’s dad, Werner, started competing locally. All eight children of Werner and his wife, Marilyn, participated in plowing contests over the years. However, Gene is the only one still competing. Around 1999, when he started his custom stainless-steel welding business, Gene decided to delve deeper into how to consistently win.
“I learned more about what plows and tractors needed for competitions and worked on customizing my own plows,” he says. “That started turning it around for me, and I’ve been climbing in the ranks since.”
The competition in Baudette will be Gene’s 8th world contest. In 2010 in New Zealand, he became the first U.S. plowing champion to place in the top 10 at ninth place. Since then, he has earned fifth place (Canada, 2013), fourth place (Denmark, 2015) and first place (Kenya, 2017).
Gene continually works at improving his plows, spending hundreds of hours building and customizing parts for each contest’s soil and weather conditions. He pays close attention to the plow’s four main components: the moldboard, the share (moldboard tip), rolling coulter and jointer/skimmer. To prepare for the contest in Kenya, for example, he needed to be ready for plowing in fields with volcanic ash.
Paula MohrFIT FOR COMPETITION: Hailey Gruber is pictured with her customized plow, built by her dad, Gene. It has moldboard extensions and quick-adjust coulters. The tractor has extended lift arms and added hydraulics.
“That soil is very sticky,” Gene says. “So, I made moldboards out of plastic. I spent the winter before that making a lot of parts.”
In Baudette later this summer, competitors will face sandy soil conditions.
“Sandy soil makes it difficult to plow shallow because there’s not much topsoil,” Gene says. Nonetheless, all competitors will be primed to compete. Everyone arrives at the contest location about two weeks prior to the event to practice plowing in designated practice fields.
Hailey picked up on plowing at a very young age. Starting when she was a toddler, Hailey rode in a tractor jump seat while Gene practiced his art. At age 7, she asked her dad when she could start plowing on her own. Thinking it was a whim, Gene bought her an old Ford tractor — small enough that she could stand on the pedals — and a stock two-bottom plow. She competed in her first plowing contest at age 8 and was hooked.
“She took an interest in it and got better and better,” Gene says. So, after two years, he upgraded her equipment to a Case IH Farmall 55A and a Kverneland two-furrow plow.
In 2017, Hailey won the national plowing contest held in Pennsylvania, earning a spot to compete at the world contest in Germany in 2018. She placed sixth internationally, just a half-point behind the fifth-place winner from Finland.
“I like competing in activities that you do with other people and that you do individually,” Hailey says. The high school sophomore also is active in golf, DECA, speech, student council, one-act stage productions, choir and band. Plus, she serves as manager of the girls’ volleyball teams.
“I used to play volleyball but plowing took over,” she says.
Paula MohrFAMLY TIME: Hailey and Gene Gruber enjoy the camaraderie of competing at plowing contests around the U.S. and internationally. Often, family is there to cheer them on, including mom/wife Eva and sister/daughter Kaitlyn.
When asked about her college plans, Hailey says she considering an engineering degree.
“I like to be hands-on and build things,” she says, “and figure out how things work.”
For more information on the 2019 World Ploughing Competition, visit lakeofthewoodsmn.com.