Ploughing Championships in Screggan, 2017

Despite the wrath of Storm Ali, which lead to the cancellation of the most popular day at this year’s Ploughing due to unsafe weather conditions, the cattle were fed, show cows milked and tents once again erected. Nothing was stopping spectators from making the annual pilgrimage to this year’s National Ploughing Championships.

This year’s Ploughing Championships were located in the village of Mucklagh, the heartland of Co. Offaly, had a reported population of just over 800 people. With Tuesday claiming the optimal weather, the largest crowds followed suit with attendances just shy of 98,000. However, the harsh weather and onslaught of Storm Ali took its toll, which lead to decreased spectator numbers across the board for the following days, in spite of an additional day being added to the programme. Claiming crowds of over 240,000, the National Ploughing Association (NPA) welcomed approximately 50,000 less in comparison to 2017, however, having attended this year’s ploughing on Thursday last, it did not fail to meet expectations.

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It was exceptionally clear that quite a lot of planning had gone into organising the 2018 event, with attendees availing of a free shuttle bus service from the local town of Tullamore to reduce the traffic and parking constraints surrounding the 700 acre site. Taking just under 10 minutes to reach the site, it was clear that the days of sitting in traffic for hours, only to get a parking space in a field several hundred meters away, are long gone.

With over 1700 exhibitors, and two million feet of trade space, it was heartening to see brands from all over the world make an effort in the design of their individual trade stands and take pride in what they had to offer.

Everything from tractors to terracotta were on display in this year’s exhibitors arena, with the machinery stands attracting the largest crowds. With over 1700 exhibitors, and two million feet of trade space, it was heartening to see brands from all over the world make an effort in the design of their individual trade stands and take pride in what they had to offer. The Dunlop wellies and trade jackets were out in force again this year, young sons attached to fathers at machinery demonstrations and school children wore bags laden with ‘freebies’. Some displays in particular stood out, such as the Dublin based Farmhand machinery distributor, which elevated a rather large self-propelled forage harvester and self-propelled sprayer onto a purpose built display stand, towering over surrounding exhibits.

Despite student ambassadors being bussed back to the safety of the Belfield campus on Wednesday; student ambassadors, alumni and current lecturers were all on hand to inform the masses of the latest courses on offer in UCD.

Several special events were planned to coincide with this year’s ploughing, such as the unveiling of various types of new Irish innovations, particularly in agricultural machinery. New products from Irish companies such as Dairymaster, Samco, Agri-Spread and Major were unveiled. A new platform, which connects producers and users of Agri-food waste, was coordinated by Assistant Professor Tom Curran from the UCD School of Biosystems and Food Engineering, and revealed at this year’s Ploughing Championships. Other AgroCycle innovations such as edible rice bran straws and potato pulp based flower pots were also on display. It was reported that the Tralee based milking machine manufacturer Dairymaster unveiled six new rotary milking parlours in a special event attended by Anna May McHugh, MD of the National Ploughing Association. These parlours represent an upgraded version to that of the one installed in UCD’s Lyons Estate Research Farm.

UCD’s presence at the Ploughing Championship did not go unnoticed. Situated on a central corridor, the stand attracted quite a large crowd. Despite student ambassadors being bussed back to the safety of the Belfield campus on Wednesday; student ambassadors, alumni and current lecturers were all on hand to inform the masses of the latest courses on offer in UCD. Both Agri-Aware and UCD joined forces this year with a particular aim of promoting Agri-Aware’s ‘CAP Communication’ or Common Agricultural Policy communication campaign. “Many hats, one CAP” was the slogan used to spread the message over the three day event, with various experts, chefs and even the ‘The2Johnnies’ making an appearance at the Big Red Shed, which was auctioned off on Thursday. It was inspiring to see fellow Agricultural Science students manning various stands at the Ploughing Championship, both Diarmuid Lee and Róisín Mc Manus of stage two ACP, were staffing the Irish Farmers Journal stand, and Rachel Donovan of stage 2 ACP was spotted running the Liffey Mills stand.

Several cabinet ministers along with various other celebrities were all in attendance at the field this year, with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed, President Michael D. Higgins all present. I was pleased to see that organisations representing Irish producers such as the Irish Farmers Association, Macra na Feirme and our counterparts at the Irish Farmers Journal were not refraining from posing difficult questions to An Taoiseach about potential Brexit implications and the scope of funding allocated to farming in the coming year’s budget.  

As for next year’s Ploughing Championship, rumour has it that it is to be situated in Co. Carlow, however, a profusion of controversy surrounds this claim.