by Meyrick Brown

There are ploughs and there are ploughs. Today most large scale tillage farmers and contractors use multi furrow machines, hydraulically mounted on hugely powerful four-wheel drive tractors, but the traditional way was with a much smaller wheeled machine drawn by a pair (team) of heavy horses (originally oxen) or by a modestly powered two-wheel driven tractor.

The primary purpose of ploughing is to turn over the upper layer of the soil, bringing fresh nutrients to the surface, while burying weeds and the remains of previous crops and allowing them to break down. As the plough is drawn through the soil it creates long fertile trenches (furrows) which are then usually left to dry out and cultivated before re-planting -in many soils, the majority of fine plant feeder roots can be found in the topsoil or plough layer.

The true craft of ploughing is the skill of cultivating land for the growing of crops. The basic parts of even the early ploughs which were just forked sticks or stag’s antlers which scratched the surface of the soil.

Even 1,000 years ago, by the time of William the Conqueror, a plough had evolved – a coulter to cut a vertical slice through the soil, a share to undercut the slice horizontally, and a mould-board to turn the slice over and bury any vegetation.

Then, around 100 years ago, the high-cut plough was being developed.

The form and angle of the crests should be similar and they should lie flat upon each other. The crowns, also known as ridges or tops, should be level with the rest of the ploughing and the last furrow slice should be the same width as the rest. When correctly adjusted, the plough will produce furrows which are straight, parallel and all the same height.

The plough used for high-cut work has an extra long mould-board which turns the furrows slowly to ensure that the soil remains unbroken. For the polish, the ploughman uses two attachments, a press wheel shaped to the profile of the furrow which runs in the previously ploughed furrow, and a boat-shaped weight to polish the sides of the next furrow.

High-cut ploughing (also known as oat seed furrow) produces a furrow suitable for sowing seed by broadcasting over the furrows. When it is done properly, the pressed and ‘polished’ sides of the furrows allow the broadcast seed to fall to the bottom achieving an even distribution and are then harrowed across the furrows.

Nowadays, this style of ploughing craft is usually only seen at competitive events to display the skill required to produce this very eye-catching style.

Pembrokeshire has five ploughing societies who each year arrange local challenge matches but somewhat different is that well established at Llangolman which got going in the 1920s but, around 30 years ago, took on the role of a vintage society.

The schedule now calls for machines in the classic classes to have been in production more than 44 years and all tractors in the trailed and mounted classes to have been in use for more than 60 years.

Their annual event, which regularly moves to a different area, attracted more than 30 enthusiasts from across the country and, despite rain and snow experienced by some, this year's event held on Easter weekend near Fishguard in a wheat stubble at Nantgwyn, Letterston, was no exception.

Results (Judges: John Tucker, Ron Williams, Dennis Goodwin, Edwin Ellaway, Tony Bradley and Aled Morgan) were as follows:

Horse ploughing – 1, Heather Robinson, Abergavenny.

High cut (Oat furrow) – 1, Derek Needham, Norfolk; 2, Vernon Davies, Brecon; 3, Tom Chinn, Mathry, Haverfordwest.

Trailed plough – 1, Gordon Harries, Tenby; 2, Sam Jones, Caersws; 3, Gwyn Lewis, Letterston.

Hydraulic plough – 1, Richard Ingram, Warwick; 2, John Lewis, Meifod; 3, Cliff Hamer, Llanidloes.

Classic – 1, Brenig Bryan, Narberth; 2, David Nicholas, Maenclochog, Clynderwen; 3, Ron Hughes, Llandysul.

Ferguson system – 1, John Evans, Eglwyswrw, Crymych; 2, Will John, Glandy Cross, Crymych.

Special awards: Best ridge – Richard Ingram. Best high cut – Derek Needham. Pembrokeshire ploughman – Gordon Harries. Ferguson system – John Evans. Best working outfit – Vernon Davies.

Championship points: Gordon Harries 3, Brenig Bryan 2, Gwyn Lewis 1.

During the presentation ceremony expressions of sincere appreciation were made to Ethel Bryan and Hilary Nicholas, both of whom had passed away during the past year, having well served the society as secretary and treasurer respectively.