Ploughman on straight and narrow

There’s only one colour for top ploughman Bob Mehrtens and it’s all blue — the livery of a Ford...
There’s only one colour for top ploughman Bob Mehrtens and it’s all blue — the livery of a Ford tractor. The reversible specialist is off to yet another world ploughing contest to be held at Estonia in August and he’s also qualified for the Czech Republic event next year. PHOTO: TIM CRONSHAW
Timaru ploughman Bob Mehrtens is heading for a tilt at the world title again after yet another win in the reversible class at the national ploughing championships.

The truck driver with a passion for ploughing emerged fairly comfortably ahead overall after the points were tallied, but not before being shaded by runner-up Ashley Seaton in the second round.

A top first effort was enough for him to accumulate a total of 369.5 points and offset the one-point loss to Mr Seaton in the following round held near Hamilton.

Mr Mehrtens was pleased with his effort after his "14th or 15th" national win.

He was struggling to remember the last time he was beaten in a national round.

A close competition was healthy for ploughing, he said.

"Sharing is caring, mate, you have to think of the others. He’s a good wee ploughman and he made a good job and good on him, I’m quite chuffed for him. Those guys are good and really improving so it’s really pleasing to see young fellas popping up. It’s good to have those guys there to push you along otherwise you just get lazy."

He said the soil was surprisingly good for competitive ploughing.

Dry initially, a rain loosened the free-draining soil on the stubble day.

Mr Mehrtens said the soaking made a huge difference on the grassland round the next day.

With his trusty Ford tractor and plough already overseas for the world event, he’s seriously considering competing in the conventional class next year.

"I’ve been thinking about it for a while and maybe it’s time for a change. As I haven’t got my tractor and plough, unless I’ve got my own gear I don’t really want to use someone else’s."

The tractor was steam-cleaned and packed for Estonia as soon as the national event was over.

By winning the reversible class yet again, he’s qualified to represent New Zealand at the World Ploughing Contest in Czech Republic next year, along with Silver Plough Conventional winner Mark Dillon, a Riversdale cropping farmer.

But the pair have another world event to focus on first.

Winning the same sections in last year’s national competition earned them tickets for the world event in Estonia in August. They will head off in July for a month of training to get used to the local conditions.

Mr Mehrtens is no stranger to the world stage, finishing fourth in the world championships in Latvia last October with conventional ploughman Ian Woolley 10th overall.

Runner-up in Kenya in 2017, he’s keen to try to top this in Estonia or the Czech Republic.

"We’re knocking on the door. I’ve had a couple of thirds in the individual grass and stubble days, but it’s anybody’s game because the ground conditions dictate a lot and it’s just the way it is. You take it good on the day."

He’s yet to compete in either country and would be happy if the soil types were anything like Latvia.

"That was lovely soil and the best soil I’ve ever seen in the world. It was just nice, silty, loamy stuff and it had enough moisture in it to peel off the board although it did get wet there towards the end. A lot of people couldn’t handle the wet and you just have to handle the conditions on the day. I was really happy last year with making some tidy plots."

He understands the rules have changed slightly with the judges looking for plough blades to bite deeper into the soil. Normally, competitors plough 150 millimetres to 180mm deep in grassland and 190mm to 210mm and will have to alter the depth this year.

As much as he likes competing in different countries it’s the people he likes best.

"I love ploughing because it’s a real sport and the people that are involved are all tied up with farming in some way or another and I just like that side of it. They are wonderful people out there and throughout the world and New Zealand they are just great people and it’s nice to be part of it."

Behind Mr Dillon on 354 points at the national championships was runner-up Simon Reed with 341.5 points and third was Warwick Seaton on 311.5 points.

In the reversible class Ashley Seaton finished with 355 points and third was Malcolm Taylor on 347 points.

Winning the horse plough class was Sean Leslie and Casey Tilson on 381 points followed by John Booth and Ange Protheroe on 350.5 points.

The vintage ploughing was won by John Wild on 385.5 points with Mr Mehrtens distant cousin Peter Mehrtens on 380.5 points second and Ian Cocker on 373 points third.

Mr Mehrtens has found borrowed gear doesn’t work at the top level of world ploughing and now always takes the Ford — his tractor of choice — despite the expense of carting it around the world.

"Mate, if it ain’t blue leave it in the shed. We have a laugh and everybody to their own, but I like my tractor. It’s easy to get in and out of and it’s pretty faithful."