May 8, 2012 --Two teams, comprised of ten students from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, place first and second in the nation at the National Association of Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Soil Judging Contest in Coffeyville, Kansas, in April. The UWRF teams beat perennial powerhouse teams from Purdue University and Kansas State University.
In addition, UWRF students took four of the top five overall individual placings. Senior geology major Ryan Anderson of Strum took first place; senior biotechnology major Jenny Druckrey of Cecil took second place; sophomore crop and soil science major Nate Hankes of Beaver Dam placed fourth; and senior conservation major Senja Melin of Grantsburg earned fifth place.
In the competition the students are asked to describe the characteristics of a soil profile in four different soil pits excavated to approximately 150 centimeters deep. Their time spent in each soil pit is strictly regulated. Contestants must describe the color, texture, consistence, structure, and other properties of each soil horizon in each pit. Using only their hands and common sense, students attempt to determine the percentage of clay, silt and sand to within five percent of the actual value. They then make interpretations about the soil such as its classification, parent material, water holding properties, productivity, susceptibility to erosion, and suitability for different land uses such as a septic system or as a source for road fill material. If the students err in their initial descriptions, many of their interpretations about the soils productivity, suitability, etc. will be incorrect, so they spend a considerable amount of time perfecting their skills prior to the competition.
Soil judging provides training and practical experience for students interested in learning proper methods of soil and site evaluation. Accurate soils information is critical in determining locations for road and buildings, and maintaining resources for crop production. Students with these skills are highly valued and sought after by organizations such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Other members of the UWRF winning teams were: Aaron Janz of North St. Paul, Minn., Haily Henderson of Galesville, Tara Allington of Prescott, Caleb Riedeman of Brandon, Joey Ploeckelman of Athens, and Lucas Rosen of Roseville, Minn. The teams were coached by Holly Dolliver, assistant professor of soil science and geology, and Bill Anderson, professor of crop and soil science. A grant from the CHS Foundation helped support the team travel to the competition.