Soil Science Society of America

Aug 8, 2022
U.S. soil judging team wins first place at world contest

An American soil judging team took first place at the World Congress of Soil Science. The students competed at the 20th World Congress of Soil Science in Glasgow, Scotland.

Competing was important because in the U.S., thousands of soil scientists use soil judging skills in their daily jobs. The soil professionals look at and feel the soil to determine its health, carbon content, drainage properties and other factors, according to a news release from the University students Kennadi Griffis, from left, Issac Nollen, Clare Tallamy and Ben Atkins were part of a soil judging team that took first place at the World Congress of Soil Science.(SSSA).

University students Kennadi Griffis, from left, Issac Nollen, Clare Tallamy and Ben Atkins were part of a soil judging team that took first place at the World Congress of Soil Science.

“Using only their eyes, sense of touch, and a limited set of tools, they make land usage recommendations about agriculture, construction, wastewater treatment, recreation, and more,” according to the release. “In addition, many companies who hire crop advisors look for excellent soil judging skills. The skills honed by soil judging are used by soil scientists, agronomists, environmental consultants, and more around the world.”

The SSSA sent the top students from the U.S. Collegiate Soil Judging Contest. Working with coaches John Galbraith, Jaclyn Fiola and Brian Needleman, the U.S. team brought home first place. The winning students were Virginia Tech student Clare Tallamy and Ben Atkins, Kennadi Griffis of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Isaac Nollen, from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

Soil judging is a professional development tool important to a soil science student’s education. “Soil judging is part of career preparation,” Brian Needleman, a University of Maryland coach, said in the release. “It brings out many essential elements of professional development that are difficult to replicate in a classroom setting (or even working in a lab or many internships). Soils in the field rarely match our textbook descriptions or our expectations as there are complications that confuse even the best soil scientists. Students are put into a high-pressure, high-stake situations and must work both individually and collaboratively to tackle complex problems.”

Students typically train at their own schools and then compete in regional and national competitions within the U.S. They then qualify for the winning team sponsored by SSSA. “The world soil judging contest was unique because we got to experience different soils, different people, and different methodologies,” Tallamy said in the release.

For some of the students, this was their first time seeing and describing soil orders such as Spodosols and Histosols as well as some other soil properties and features, said team coach Jacyln Fiola of Virginia Tech.

Atkins said the competition introduced him to soil orders he had little experience with, including Histosols and Spodosols. Additionally, it exposed Atkins to the World Reference Base soil classification system used by other countries.

“This was a wonderful opportunity for them and their hard work throughout the summer and the practice days paid-off,” Fiola said in the release. “Soil Judging is the best preparation students can get for a career in soil science. The skills they learn and practice will be invaluable throughout their careers, as well as the connections with soil scientists from all over the world.”

Team USA spent much of the week studying soil taxonomy with Team Australia and learned some Italian words from Team Italy, Griffis said in the release. “This experience has further motivated me to pursue a career in soil science and create new connections around the world,” he said.

Nollen appreciated being able to see not only Scotland, but the peat bogs. As a natural compound is uncommon in the lower 48 states, peat is commonly used in potting soil mixes. Experience with soils in different locations is a benefit of participating in soil judging experiences.

Tallamy also won first place in the individual soil judging contest. She received high praise from soil judging coach John Galbraith of Virginia Tech. “Clare is a team player, and enjoys teaching and sharing with others,” he said in the release. “Her goal is to learn as much as she can about soils.”

The SSSA is an international scientific society that fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global soils. Based in Madison, Wisconsin, SSSA is the professional home for more than 6,000 members dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. It provides information about soils in relation to crop production, environmental quality, ecosystem sustainability, bioremediation, waste management, recycling and wise land use.


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