The decline of the International Plowing Match

Plowing matches have been part of the agricultural history of Ontario for over a century. In the early days they were sponsored by agricultural societies, the first farm groups to be established. That has changed.

The International Plowing Match (IPM), which is held in Ontario during the third week of September, was once the top outdoor show for farm families. It was the place to be. Throughout the years, the IPM has gained a reputation for being an event that brings communities together. The IPM moved around the province, giving everyone the opportunity to attend in their neck of the woods.

It’s possible that the wide-open invitation became its downfall. In the 1990s, agricultural exhibitors began to complain that there were too many non-farmers attending the event. They were the ones showing interest in the big tractors, but a sale isn’t made to people with no land. Manufacturing companies looked at the expense to showcase their wares to mostly non-buyers. Many pulled out of the event and left it to the local dealers to support the match.

At the time a new show was in the works. It was called the Outdoor Farm Show (OFS). It would have a permanent location in Woodstock and be held a week before the IPM. Twenty years ago, when the OFS started up, I predicted in my weekly column that the Outdoor Farm Show would spell disaster for the IPM.

In the early years, the Outdoor Farm Show attracted over 500 exhibitors and 36,000 people.

Last year they had 750 agricultural exhibitors and 42,900 attendees. It is well known for exhibitors showcasing their technology and for a large number of field demonstrations.

By this point, it’s an unspoken truth that the real farmers attend the Outdoor Farm Show while rural folks, retirees and hobby farmers go to the IPM. The huge trailer park at IPM events has over 1,600 trailer sites and is a city in itself with its own entertainment and music for the older folks – you know, the fiddling stuff.

The IPM had to make some changes; they added the words “Rural Expo” to their event, hoping to draw more urban folks. By adding daily entertainment, grandstand shows, antiques and antique tractors and vehicles galore, it has become a country fair for families. To boost attendance, organizers flood the tent city with busloads of school kids. Meanwhile, real farmers go to the OFS and watch no-drill drills at work and cows being milked by robotic milkers.

No CFFO booth

I attended the IPM in Ivy (near Barrie) in September and was surprised to see that the farm organizations, including the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario (CFFO), were absent, as were the major seed and chemical companies. I inquired about that and a spokesman for one organization told me that the atmosphere is no longer that of serious agriculture but rather urban folk coming out for a day in the country.

But even though the farm organizations were (ironically) absent at this important farm event, politicians, as usual, were everywhere. It is the only provincial fair that closes Queen’s Park annually so all provincial members of parliament can attend. Even Justin Trudeau was there and did a little plowing, as did all three Ontario party leaders. The Ontario PC Caucus and the Ontario Liberal Caucus had a tent booth. But things didn’t go so well for the premier, who was also the former Ontario agriculture minister.

Premier Wynne and her almost entirely urban Liberal caucus were heckled on the opening day parade. Some of the critics were angry as they called for the government to quit imposing wind turbines on rural Ontario.

The closing entertainment was superb. It was worth it just to watch the Team Farmall perform – eight Farmall tractors square dancing. Excellent entertainment; it drew huge crowds and not one bit of heckling.


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