1 October 1999

Host farmer found a new enthusiasm

WITH almost a third of Shillingford Farms 365ha (900 acres) of arable land ear-marked for the Society of Ploughmens grand ploughing festival next weekend, host farmer Stephen Cook is being undeniably generous in providing the site for the second time in recent years.

"I didnt have any particular interest in match ploughing and knew hardly anything about the society until I was approached last time," he admits.

"But I do think its a marvellous event, especially when you see the dedication of the some of the competitors."

Added interest comes from following the fortunes of farm foreman Gordon Harmer who similarly had little interest in match ploughing until the 1993 championships came to Shillingford.

"Gordon has taken up the competition himself and won a place in the finals this year," notes Mr Cook. "Hes got a decent plough and ought to know how the land behaves here. So he hasnt really got an excuse for not doing well!," he adds with a grin.

Ploughing prepares all the land for oilseed rape, barley and wheat on the farm, though with a seven-furrow reversible turning up to 20ha (50 acres) a day this task is something of a contrast to the precision ploughing seen on the competition plots.

All the same, the quality of work has to be up to scratch to properly bury stubble and weeds, and set up the land for seed-bed preparation with a power harrow.

"Theres no comparison between match and commercial ploughing; but if anyone takes the time and trouble demanded of match ploughing, its bound to rub off on the commercial work," says Mr Cook.

With such a big and important event being held on the farm – and recalling the disruption caused by a fortnights postponement last time – Stephen Cook is understandably apprehensive about the weather. But not about the consequences of hosting the event.

"The main job will be to get the headlands ploughed, then the whole lot cultivated and drilled, hopefully by the end of the week," he says. "Several manufacturers demonstrating say they will help, and a number of neighbours have offered to lend a hand, too. This event seems to create that sort of spirit."

But then Shillingford Farm has a special place in the annals of the sport, having famously hosted the fourth world championships in 1956. A freshly re-constructed Cairn of Peace, topped with a "golden" model plough, proudly marks the occasion. Though the stone-work is relatively new, the original inscription and individual nation plaques that it firmly holds emphasises the continuing world-wide interest in the art of match ploughing.