Meet the champion Yorkshire ploughman keeping a competitive farming tradition alive

Uniformity, straightness and smart appearance are the watchwords of an arable farming sport that has captivated a North Yorkshire ploughman for 40 years.

Roger Ingham of Red Brick Farm in Toulston, near Tadcaster, competes with his 1974 Ford 3000 and a Ransome plough in the Classic class at 25 ploughing matches every year. He’s as competitive as they come and his proudest moment was finishing second in the British championships in Kent a decade ago.

Roger said he always looks forward to the season that runs from September to March with great enthusiasm having developed his interest in tractors at an early age.

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“When you are tractor mad it never goes away from you. My uncle George was my idol. He was a tractor driver for the Riley Smith family at the farm where they had their polo ground. I would be driving a tractor up and down a potato picking field from about 12 years old.

Roger Ingham with his 1974 Ford tractor

“My father wanted me to go to agricultural college but I hadn’t enjoyed school and instead went straight to work on local farms.

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“I left farming to go into construction work where it was better money and started driving bigger machines and in 1979 I started my own business in land drainage and farm work that eventually led to buying my own small acreage here at Toulston, but I’d always attended ploughing matches and thought ‘I could do that’.”

Roger said there is a massive difference between regular agricultural ploughing and match ploughing.

Roger still regularly competes in ploughing matches

“Competition ploughing means precision. The judges are looking for perfection. Everything has to be spot on. Straightness is just one of the things but there are all sorts of others that make up the match.

“The bug got me straight away when I started with an old Standard Fordson tractor and Ransome plough. Once that bug gets you, you need to be competitive and to be competitive you have to have good equipment. You buy a better plough, then a better one than that. It’s the only way you can gear up properly.”

While the sport is largely seen as an older man’s game Roger said he is particularly pleased with the healthy number of younger people who are coming into it.

“Farming has changed and now most ploughing that is done is undertaken with big equipment and handled very speedily, but there are a lot of younger ones of 19-20 years of age, some farming people, some not, who are taking on an old grey Fergie and a plough, sticking it on a trailer and coming along.

“Using that kind of equipment to get started means you can keep your costs down. For me and for many of us it is simply about chucking our smaller tractors and ploughs on the back of a flatbed trailer.

“It’s more difficult to get into if you are wanting to compete with a big, modern four-wheel drive tractor and a massive Kverneland plough that involves hydraulic valves, plus a wagon to drag it all around. That’s often out of ordinary people’s pockets.”

Nonetheless there are those who continue to be attracted to the sport, whichever the class.

“Just like it was with me, when the bug grabs you, that’s it. We are fortunate that young farmers clubs, particularly those in the East Riding, are organising so many ploughing matches and people local to me like Derek Tyson and David Greenwood.”

Competition is what Roger thrives upon but, much like receiving a bad lane draw in athletics; bad stall draw in horse racing; or bad lot number at a livestock market, Roger said his and others’ hopes can rest upon which plot is allocated on the day.

“In a field at a match the soil condition can change rapidly from one end to the other. Plots 1 and 2 might be really good ploughing but yours might be rubbish and that can prove very difficult because you are then not just competing against the others but also the soil condition. But that’s sport.

“A stony plot is the worst. Nobody wants one of those.”

Roger said the county’s prowess in producing fantastic ploughmen has also helped in promoting the sport.

“Yorkshire has consistently provided world and British ploughing champions, including three from the Witty family in East Lutton; Dave Thomlinson from Escrick; John Hill of Hoylandswaine; and David Greenwood from Garforth.

“But for me, while it is always about the competition and doing the best I possibly can, it is also about the great camaraderie that exists in the sport. I have met so many people who have become huge friends over the years.”

East Riding YFC County Ploughing Match will take place at John and Christine Gatenby’s Littlethorpe Farm, Rudston on Saturday February 19. For full details of all classes contact: [email protected]