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School of Environment and Natural Resources


Faculty Reflection: Celebrating achievements that rely on people working together

March 30, 2020
Ohio State’s soil judging team in action near Stevens’ Point Wisconsin, October 2019.
Faculty Reflection:  Celebrating Achievements that Rely on People Working Together

Though we are all destined to be separated for a time, I wanted to celebrate achievements that rely on people working together. About 25 years ago(!), I remember hearing a talk by future World Food Prize Laureate, Dr. Daniel Hillel (probably best known as the champion of micro-irrigation, a technology revolutionizing crop production and water use efficiency across the world). Dr. Hillel maintained (despite his own individual fame), that the great issues of our time and the major challenges of the future would not be solved by lone thinkers or scientists, but by teamwork and partnerships, an early example of trans-disciplinary thinking.

Today I don’t have much to say about major challenges, though I know we are all consumed by them, but I wanted to recognize in a small way a partnership that has meant a great deal to me in my time at Ohio State, and particularly over the past year. Earlier this year, I was asked to prepare a Monday Morning Message about the National Collegiate Soil Judging Contest, an inter-collegiate activity that I planned to host in Ohio from April 19-24. Soil Judging is a team activity that involves students from a number of Universities, who compete to describe and interpret soil features in soil pits. There have been regional and national contests since 1961, and there have been international contests recently. There are seven soil judging regions in the USA, and Ohio was chosen to host this year on behalf of Region 1 (the northeast). The last time Ohio State was the host was 1983, so it was quite an honor to have this opportunity and a large undertaking to prepare. Teams and coaches from 27 Universities (including about 150 students) had planned to travel to Central Ohio to compete in this year’s contest. Sadly, we had to cancel the contest for 2020, but Ohio State may be the host in 2021 instead. Ohio State has a proud history of soil judging, doing well in regional contests, and winning the National Contest on a number of occasions. Many alumni remember Soil Judging as one of their favorite college activities. Being the Ohio State soil judging coach and traveling with our student teams has been a highlight for me too.

We began actively planning our contest well over a year ago. By “we” I mean a partnership of soil scientists in Ohio, particularly professional soil scientists from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Ohio Department of Agriculture. But this is not a new partnership. In various forms, our institutions have worked together for more than a century, contributing to the National Cooperative Soil Survey. This partnership has been fundamental to the advancement of agriculture and land management in Ohio. For decades, as the soil survey progressed from county to county in Ohio, Ohio State and School of Environment and Natural Resources soil scientists made major contributions to research and field and laboratory support for the soil survey. NRCS, ODNR, and ODA partnering with Ohio State made possible a major information resource for land use planning. In earlier times, Soil Surveys were paper documents including maps for each county, but in the early 2000s, SENR helped NRCS digitize many of our county surveys, and they are now included in the online Web Soil Survey.

Planning for the 2020 contest revitalized our partnership. NRCS State Soil Scientist, Steve Baker, Soil Scientists Jeff Glanville and Jess Burns (a recent graduate from our program), and ODNR Soil Scientist Matt Lane worked tirelessly to help identify locations for our soil pits in Logan, Cover of National Contest Handbook, with NRCS Soil Scientists Steve Baker at the controls and Jeff Glanville directing as we prepared a practice pit for the contest.Union and Champaign counties.



















During 2019, the team excavated 26 soil pits, described and interpreted soil conditions in the field and collected hundreds of soil samples which were subsequently analyzed by the National Soil Survey Laboratory in Lincoln NE, to make sure that we had accurate information on which to base our contest.

While we can no longer spend these days in the field making final preparations at this time, and our visiting teams can no longer travel here, I am very grateful for the great teamwork and comradery that prepared us well for a future contest. I am really looking forward to a better time, when our team can work together again in person to prepare for a future contest, and keep the National Cooperative Soil Survey partnership alive in Ohio. I know that collaboration is the essence of how we work in SENR, and that we will all be similarly recognizing the promise of future teamwork.

This was originally published as a Monday Morning Message for faculty, staff and graduate students in the School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) and was written by Brian Slater, associate professor and associate director in the SENR.