Soil Judging Team at Ohio State Competes in National Soil Judging Contest

April 14, 2016
The Soil Judging Team at Ohio State Competes in National Soil Judging Contest, Manhattan, KS.
The Soil Judging Team at Ohio State competed in the National Collegiate Soils Contest (April 3-8, 2016) hosted by Kansas State University and held in the vicinity of Manhattan, KS.  
In total, 23 universities took part in this year’s national contest where teams have to qualify to compete by finishing in the top three or four places in one of the country’s seven regional competitions.  Ohio State followed up its 3rd place 2015 Northeast regional finish by placing 10th overall at nationals, a respectable score for a team composed entirely of 1st year soil judgers.  The winner of the national contest was West Virginia University from the Southeast Region, and among other schools representing the Northeast Region, Delaware Valley College placed 4th, University of Maryland placed 7th, and Pennsylvania State University finished 15th.

The Ohio State University Soil Judging Team at the 2016 National Soil Judging Contest, Manhattan, KS.
This was the first time that Ohio State fielded a team at nationals in many years, and all team members were very excited to attend and learn about soils in NE Kansas.  The national soil judging contest consists of an individual and team competition on two separate days with the scores from both portions compiled into an overall school ranking. Ohio State took 6 School of Environment and Natural Resources undergraduate students (Sabrina Johnson, Nick Heppner, Adam Vonderhaar, Kylie Seese, Grant Cory, Derrick Freshcorn) to the contest where 4 of them: Sabrina Johnson, Nick Heppner, Kylie Seese, and Grant Cory, represented Ohio State in the individual portion of the competition.  All 6 students competed together in the team competition in which Ohio State finished in 11th place.  SENR graduate students, Matthew Bright (Ph.D. advisor—Professor Richard Dick), and Kaitlyn Benson (M.S. advisor—Professor Nick Basta) served as the team’s coaches.  

About Soil Judging

Soil judging provides students with an unparalleled opportunity to immerse themselves in the complexities of soil in the field in different areas of the country.  During the four days prior to the contest, all teams visited and practiced at 17 pits dug exclusively for the contest at 5 different sites within a 60-mile radius of Manhattan.  One day of practice in addition to the individual competition was held on the extraordinarily beautiful Konza Prairie Biological Station—an approximately 10,000-acre virgin prairie jointly owned by the Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University.  By the end of the week, Ohio State’s soil judgers became experts in characterizing soils formed under tallgrass prairies from glacial material, loess, alluvium, limestone and shale residuum parent materials.  
Soil judging teaches students to describe the characteristics of the various layers that have developed in the soil, the ability of the soil to transmit and retain water to support roots, the geological parent materials from which the soil has formed, before determining site characteristics, taxonomically classifying the soil, and finally making interpretations about the suitability of the soil for potential land uses such as establishing a septic tank or road on the site.  
Many students describe their soil judging experiences as the highlight of their undergraduate careers and point to it as the deciding factor in their decision to pursue a career in soil science.  In addition to the pre-competition practice, Ohio State’s soil judgers attended 5 practices occurring weekly prior to leaving for Kansas—further testimony to their dedication and skill.  They are excited to build on their recent successes in next fall’s regional competition hosted at Penn State University. Please take a moment to congratulate the soil judging team on their accomplishments. 
Contributing Author and Source: Matthew Bright, PhD Candidate in the School of Environment and Natural Resources and a coach for Ohio State's Soil Judging Team.
Photos courtesy of Matthew Bright.