Friday, December 1, 2023

Champion hands to the plough in eastern Europe

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It is the first time the ploughman has visited either country, despite representing NZ on the world stage more than a dozen of times.
Bob Mehrtens adjusts his plough during the national ploughing championships in Milton.
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Veteran Timaru ploughman Bob Mehrtens will literally be breaking new ground when he heads to Latvia and Estonia to compete on the world ploughing stage.

Mehrtens claimed the reversible plough title at the recent  New Zealand Ploughing Championships in Milton, where Southland crop farmer Mark Dillon won the conventional silver plough title.

Those victories entitle the pair to compete at the 2024 World Ploughing Championships in Estonia.

 But first, Mehrtens has the 2023 worlds in Latvia in October to prepare for.

It is the first time the ploughman has visited either country, despite representing NZ on the world stage “14 or 15 times” since competing in the Netherlands in 1989.

He admits to not knowing much about  either country but is excited at the prospect of experiencing new cultures and meeting new people.

“I have met people who plough from Estonia but I don’t think anyone knows a lot about Estonia. I’ll look it up on the computer one night when I get around to it,” Mehrtens said.

Mehrtens, who runs a transport business in Timaru, was pleased with his performance at the nationals and said the paddocks used for the competition suited him.

“It was very, very old grass so I knew that it would be pretty difficult for a lot of them to handle that.

“It’s the sort of soil that I like to plough and suited my plough nicely. It wasn’t stony and had good moisture, which is very important.”

Despite being a regular national winner, Mehrtens said it is satisfying to know he still has what it takes to win a title.

“There’s no room for error now. The guys are creeping up quietly, which is good to see. The young fellas are keeping up and keeping you on your toes.”

For Dillon, it was just his second national title in more than 20 years of competing and Estonia will be his second attempt at a world title. He competed in France in 2014 and finished 18th.  

“It was big learning curve going to your first worlds. I know what I’m in for now, and will be a bit more prepared.”

The key will be to get as much as practice as possible in the lead-up to the event and then head to Estonia in plenty of time to train in that country. 

Dillon was a convincing winner in the conventional plough category and was happy with his performance.

“The aim of the game is to win. I was really happy with my stubble plot and the grass one was hard work. I had to work hard all day but I ended up coming out with a good result.”

Ploughing is a family affair for the Dillons and three generations were involved in the Milton event. Mark’s father Richard was a judge and his son Blain competed in the contemporary plough section.

 Dillon is unsure if he will take his Massey tractor and plough to Estonia; it will depend on cost.

“I’d like to. Once you get your own tractor and plough set up it’s what you’re used to and what you know.”

Mehrtens’ trusty 1998 Ford 7740 tractor and plough are about to be shipped to Latvia, and will stay in Europe for next year’s competition.

“We’ve worked out it will take about 6-8 weeks to get there but we’re sending it over earlier just to make sure,” he said.

Competing internationally is not cheap, but Mehrtens said it’s not something he gives too much thought to.  His best result was a second placing in the reversible plough in Kenya in 2017 and the prospect of going one better keeps him going.

“It’s a bit of a buzz and nice to get the chance to represent New Zealand. That’s what we strive for.

“At the end of the day once you are looking at a lid, you can’t get out. So you’ve got to enjoy it while you can.

“I love it. It’s all part of the challenge, and being part of the rural community is the best part.”

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