Mey tractor driver jubilant after Latvian plough championships
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A champion tractor driver from Mey talked of his pride in representing Scotland at a major world ploughing competition in Latvia.
James Tait is a tractor driver with Greenland Mains farm – one of the main sponsors for his visit to Latvia to take part in this month's World Ploughing Championships (WPC) held at Kuldiga.
"I was very proud to be representing my country. Very few folk will every get the chance at that level," said James, who has been working with the Pottinger family at Greenland Mains for 47 years.
He thinks he is probably the only driver north of Aberdeen to have ever taken part in the global competition which only accepts national champions on the field. In October 2022, James won the Scottish Ploughing Championships in the reversible category held at Stanstill farm in Bower and also won the Five Nations Trophy – a competition held annually between Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. "I'm the only Caithness man to have taken part in European and world competitions. You have to be champion in your own country to qualify for the world championships."
Though winning the Scottish national competition meant he could go to Latvia, James was unsure if he would be able to participate due to the huge expenses involved – primarily in taking his tractor and plough across to Latvia which has been made more complicated after the UK left the European Union.
However, he said he was extremely lucky with sponsorship from his employer at Greenland Mains farm and would like to thank everyone "for their generosity" which enabled him to go and take part. "It cost about £20,000 to go out there so it wasn't cheap."
The event was held over an eight day period from Saturday, October 7. There were around 45 competitors taking part from about 27 countries including Canada, Australia, NZ, USA, Kenya and many European countries. James was with his wife Christine and they were invited to have a tour of Kuldiga and the surrounding area.
Christine said: "We’ve both been blown away by Latvia. It’s like a home from home as far as the countryside and weather is concerned. The Latvians have more in common with Estonia and Finland than Russia.
"They are well aware of what’s going on around them and the people of Ukraine were mentioned in a church [service]. We [were] quite a few hundred miles from the Ukrainian border and the same from Moscow. We [were] told there are bears and wolves in the forests. The wolves eat the sheep and cows and the farmers are not allowed to shoot them. It can be unsafe to be driving around at night."
Christine said they attended church on the Wednesday for the blessing of the plough and trophies and James had the honour of carrying in the Scottish flag for the ceremony. "The official opening ceremony and raising of the Scottish flag took place on the Thursday afternoon following the end of official practice," added Christine.
Also at the opening of the event, they had the unveiling of the Cairn of Peace – a very old tradition that symbolises the spirit of the competition. A piece of stone from all the participating countries forms part of the cairn and James used a rock from Caithness Norstone. There were events held daily for visitors and official events in the evening including competitors briefings. The couple also met the British ambassador to Latvia on the Saturday morning and that was followed by the gala event and awards ceremony in the evening.
James came 12th on the first day (on stubble), 8th on the second (on grass) and had an overall placing of 11th. "He was very pleased with this considering the stiff competition and terrible ploughing conditions with torrential rain for much of Saturday morning," said Christine.
"My ambition was to get in the top 10 but I came home quite happy," said James. "The standard out there is frightening but it's a really friendly competition and everyone comes to shake your hand."
He said he knew quite a few of the competitors from European championships – held in France, Belgium and Holland – he had previously competed at.
James is now preparing for the 2023 Scottish national being held in Ayrshire on October 27/28.