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Our girl’s tractor trials ahead of ploughing championships

Around IrelandBy Lynne Kelleher
George takes Lynn for a spin
George takes Lynn for a spin

It’s the field of dreams, where you can let your imagination run wild.

The National Ploughing Championships are bigger and better than ever – with more than a quarter of a million people from all over the world expected to descend on Ratheniska, Co. Laois, this week.

Europe’s largest outdoor exhibition and agriculture trade show, now in its 84th year, runs from Tuesday to Thursday.

As well as the prestigious ploughing competition, there will be somewhere in the region of 1,400 exhibitors – with the three-day event expected to generate around e40million for the for wider local economy. 

To get a real feel for the show I was invited to my own personal tractor driving lesson by former National Ploughing Championship host George Byrne.

The air-conditioned cab of the €130,000 John Deere tractor has as many controls as a cockpit and is locked into satellites tracking its every move on George’s family farm in Bennekerry in Co. Carlow.

After climbing up on to the cushioned driver’s seat,  it was a case of putting the foot to the floor for a steady 8km an hour as I operated the Ferrari of the ploughing world – one of a handful of six-furrow mounted ploughs in the country.

 “All we have to do is get you steering in the right direction. Not a whole lot can go wrong. Everything is set electronically,” said Derek Delahunty, professional ploughing instructor for agricultural machinery giants Lemken.

“Now it’s a three-point turn. Bang into reverse and lock hard and give it some throttle and remember my car is behind you,” he cautioned, half-jokingly, as the John Deere backed towards his vehicle.

The James Bond-style tractor has so many gadgets that you carry out hands-free ploughing! GPS takes over the steering as you look out the back window to check the muck is flying in the air, while the tractor stays on a steady path.

One flick of a button and the plough turns and hits the ground and off we went bumping down the slope. In a burst of confidence I briefly speeded up to a nippy 10km an hour.

Another three-point turn and lots of locking hard, which successfully avoided the ditch, and the lesson was complete.

But while it’s virtually cruise control on the commercial 600-acre farm owned by farmer George, the fiercely competitive ploughing championship is much more meticulous.

Ploughing may seem like a mucky business to the untrained eye, but it is an agricultural masterpiece for the farmers vying to become national champs this week.

Perfectionist competitors are regularly seen measuring the height of the furrows with rulers to ensure they haven’t a grain of muck out of place.

“It’s an art form,” said George, who twice hosted the championships and once hosted the world championships at his tillage farm.

“Ireland and Scotland are probably seen as the two top nations in the world. We love our ploughing. It started between two farmers in neighbouring parishes. It was a competition over who was the best. People travel all over the world competing.”

And the farmer has carried out his own incredible piece of art work in his Carlow farm.

Crop circles usually spark a flurry of UFO hysteria, but the famous Audi sign captured by a flying aerodrome in one of his 50-acre fields this week was his own handiwork.

George took on a challenge from Audi to complete a towering version of the four-ring logo – 360 feet wide and more 100 feet high.

He set about cultivating the logo in one of his fields by meticulously measuring each individual circle with a tape by hand and marking the land using satellite technology as an added guide. And the results were stunning.

“This was definitely a first for me, but I really enjoyed creating the logo. I did one ring and then used the GPS to replicate it.

“We marked it out with measuring tapes. It was a once-off. It you made one mistake the whole thing was out the window,” said George.

“We did it with a cultivator because a plough can’t go in a circle. We used satellites in the sky – an American system and the Glonass Russian system.

 “A receiver on the tractor positions exactly where we are on the surface of the earth. You just do one circle and then the GPS lets you replicate that.

“It has changed things. You are certainly not as fatigued and the machines are more accurate with what they do.”

After stepping off the tractor, it was a case of road-testing Audi’s all-new dream Q7 family SUV, which will be showcased at the National Ploughing Championships in Co. Laois this week.

Not unlike the John Deere tractor, it comes complete with so many controls and aids that it is almost impossible to crash, for which this reporter was very grateful.