Deimco's Elsberry Competes at Nationals

Tama, Iowa - August 23, 2016

A lost art to many was resurrected on a piece of hay ground near Highway 96 in northern Marshall County over the weekend as the Iowa Plowing Association held its annual state contest on land owned by Robert Long and farmed by Kevin Holl.

According to Dave Postlethwait, the Iowa and National Plowing Association president who hails from Springville, competitions have been held locally, statewide, nationally and worldwide since 1939 or before. He said that Herb Plambeck (of WHO Radio fame) gets the credit for getting people involved in both the national and world contests.

But why would anyone get interested in a plowing match?

“It is just like if two men have horses they bet with each other to see which horse is the best. If you put a ball of any kind in someone’s hand it usually spells competition with another,” Postlethwait said. “So, who could turn the soil over and prepare it for the best crop, soon became a competition as well.”

Richard Pedersen, secretary-treasurer of the Iowa Plowing Association and world representative, said the state contest is held on ground that is available in each given year.

“We take where we can find something available, and Kevin Holl was gracious to let us use this hay ground and host the contest this year,” he said.

Holl, who has participated in many national as well as state contests, said the group was considering a patch of ground near Jefferson for the 2016 meet, but when the landowner backed out, his hayfield was available. After two crops of hay were made, Long’s ground was chosen after Holl’s offer.

With today’s mentality farmers try not to plow to save the soil and there is more emphasis to no-till.

“As far as the government program goes, we can plow if it’s non-highly erodible and we usually plow ground that’s almost flat,” Holl said. “We aren’t talking a lot of acres either with .25 acre for the antique and open class and .4 acre for the small plow.

“Considering the rain in the area on Friday evening and the late start, I feel that this meet turned out to be a success after all,” Holl said.

According to Pedersen, each contest is held in three or four classes. There is an antique class, which is for tractors 1938 and over; and an open class where the contestant can plow with anything except a professional plow. These contests last 75 minutes in length (and were combined at the 2016 Iowa meet).

Then there is the small plow class, which is the class that is used in the world competition. In this class the opening split is noticeably different from that of the antique and open class. This contest lasts for three hours.

There is also a class for reversible plows but it was not featured in this year’s Iowa meet.

“Straight is the key,” Postlethwait said. “The judges are looking for the plowman to create a seed bed for next year’s crop that will not blow or erode and they do not want the furrows smooth.”

In each class the opening split is judged on its straightness, uniformity and completeness of cut. The crown (first 8 or 9 furrows) are judged on straightness and no stubble, no grass or weeds. The crown is to be level and have prominent depressions. The general work is judged on the above categories, plus firmness of soil, the availability for a seed bed and land ends. The last 12 furrows are checked for being parallel from end to end and if they are narrow, shallow and clean. A perfect score would be 170 points.

However each contestant has to watch for deductions. Penalties include 10 points for finishing on the wrong end; five points per minute for every minute over the 75 minute time limit; up to 10 points for improper depth; up to 10 points for extra wheel tracks; up to 20 points for any manipulation of the plot, plowing or illegal use of equipment.

Seven contestants from Pierson, Melbourne, Kalona, Marion, Coulter, Marshalltown and the Conrad area participated in the antique/open class, while four contestants plowed in the small plow division.

The 2016 Iowa winners are qualified to compete in the 2017 National contest to be held next year in Pennsylvania. Results in each class were as follows:

Antique Class: 1. Joel McQweenof Pierson, 2. Cliff Parkerof Conrad, 3. Michael Holl of Conrad and 4. David Law of Marion.

Open Class: 1. Monroe Millerof Kalona, 2. Ray Elsberry of Marshalltown, 3. Richard Larsonof Coulter and 4. Ben Fitz ofMelbourne.

Small Plow Class: 1. Mike Fitzof Melbourne, 2. Kevin Holl of Conrad, 3. David Law of Marion and 4. Ray Elsberry of Marshalltown.

Postlethwait said that the family that has keep the competition alive in the Midwest is the Gruber family of Minnesota with a father and two sons that consistently capture top honors, but added that several competitors from the Midwest states have qualified for the National meet next year in Pennsylvania.

It is fun and something we (the 30-40 members of the Iowa Plowing Association) enjoy doing,” Postlethwait said, “but it has become a lot more expensive to do it.”