Part 1: The ‘Soil Judges’ of Oz

Our adventure started bright and early Sunday morning, the nine of us piling into a shuttle to the airport, bleary eyed and still half asleep. The 2017 5th Australian Soil Judging Competition awaited us in Toowoomba, Queensland.

Plane
Crisp morning at Christchurch International Airport.

Brisbane put on a show when we got there, what a beautiful day. We stopped and walked around Southshore, trying to acclimatise to the Australian weather. Five minutes out of the van, all we wanted to do was find somewhere cold to sit down and get out of the 30+°C heat!

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From Left: Sephrah Rayner, Connor Edwards, Alvand Azimi, Josh Nelson, Verina Telling, Judith van Djik, Milan Bonkovich, Irene Setiawan. Absent from photo: Camilla Gardiner (but still a key team member).

Off to Toowoomba we went. After settling into our accommodation we explored the local sites. Toowoomba the “Garden City” and had just finished its Carnival of flowers, giving us the opportunity to smell a few roses before we got into the depths of soil judging. Also enjoying the first of many BBQs.

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Exploring the Toowoomba Botanical Gardens with the Kiwi Soil Judgers, settling in to Toowoomba.

Soil Judging Practice. Now this is what you want to get into, if you have even a slight inkling of interest in soils you’d be addicted after seeing these practice pits. What beautiful soils! A broad range, contrasting in colour and conformation. They maybe not as varied in texture (clay everywhere) but if you’re used to New Zealand soils they sure are different!

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Alvand contemplating a buried Sodosol with his Niwashi.

We had a great bunch of knowledgeable Australian Soilys to take us through the practice soil pits. Finding and preparing seven soil pits in contrasting landscapes, sharing their expertise and time with us was greatly appreciated and very interesting. It definitely ‘expanded our horizons’.

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Jim Payne sharing his soils wisdom with the Kiwi crew.

Day one, we jumped on a bus and went east back down the Great Dividing Range (700m altitude) to Gatton to look at four different soil pits. Two clay rich soils, one Vertosol and one Dermosol, dark and prismatic. One Chromosol with rich red mottles at depth and the other a Sodosol, with a pale eluviated horizon that was buried under a gravelly red-orange fill that just made it ‘pop’ (image above). As well as this we heard from one of the local Ag Forestry and Fisheries Researchers, Steve Harper. With years of experience of the local area he talked about its history in market gardens, producing the majority of potatoes and other vegetables for all of Queensland.

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The complete Kiwi crew; Two teams of 4 and a team leader. From top left: Josh, Milan, Irene, Connor, Judith. From bottom left: Sephrah, Alvand, Camilla and Verina.

That evening we had the third BBQ of our trip, to finish of the sausages left over from the welcome BBQ the night before. Catching up with colleagues that some of us had met at last years competition in Wanaka and meeting new people just starting out in their soil judging careers. This is a great part of Soil Judging Competitions, extending collaboration and friendships across the ditch.

 

Day two, jumping on another bus we headed in the opposite direction. Off west to Darling Downs, with a pit in Toowoomba, Kingsthorpe and Jondaryan into the ‘erosional landscapes of the basaltic uplands’. The weathering status and hardness of Basalt determine many of the soil patterns in the landscape. Driving past paddocks with sodicity issues have cotton turned through them and left to fallow, ‘pasture’ paddocks with a few cattle here and there, bright green paddocks of barley and wheat providing a stark contrast to the surrounding vegetation.

Our first pit of the day was red. A Ferrosol that turns your hands red when texturing, providing a great instant tan for your legs or semi-permanent paint to graffiti your mates t-shirt. For the second we got treated to the most impressive slicken sides you’ve ever seen. Up until this point we Kiwi’s had a rough idea what they were, having read about them, but seeing them in person was next level. Lenticular peds, which have a horizonal lens shaped structure that when pulled out of the pit face revealed the polished slicken side faces. The third soil of the day was a Calcarosol, using acid to test for calcareous material.

Before our fourth and final pit of the day we got treated to hot fresh scones and tea at a historic farm. Just about as good as Kiwi scones.

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The Gilgai exposed!

At the fourth pit we found ourselves staring at a thing of beauty, the soil pit had been dug to reveal the perfect finger of calcareous material that protrudes between Gilgai! Gilgai was also something that us Kiwis were trying to wrap our heads around. A Gilgai  is a small, temporary lake formed from a depression in the soil surface in expanding clay soils. Additionally, the term “gilgai” is used to refer to the overall micro-relief in such areas, consisting of mounds and depressions, not just the lakes themselves. The name comes from an Aboriginal word meaning small water hole.

The practice days were long and hot, but comprehensive and helpful. Especially when it came to coming to terms with a whole new classification system and defining textures with more than 35% clay. Its one thing to read a book and practice in a lab, or on New Zealand soils, but Australia is a whole different ball game. A great experience all round.

A shout out to all the people that made the competition possible, preparing such great practise pits and generously sharing your time, energy and knowledge. Also to the funders both here and across the ditch that made the whole thing a reality. New Zealand Sponsors were: FAR, Landcare Research, Ravensdown, NZ Society of Soil Science, Centre for Soil and Environmental Research, LRS and Lincoln University.

Sponors

Part 2 of The ‘Soil Judgers’ of Oz, “Competition Day” article coming soon! and if you missed out on the daily photo posts on Instagram and Facebook, check them out now!

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The Kiwi Soil Teams: Light Green = Bedrockers; Milan, Connor, Sephrah and Camilla. Dark Green = Fifty Shades of Greywacke; Irene, Alvand, Josh and Verina. Ready for competition day!

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References:

Competition Handbook: 5th Australian Soil Judging Competition, 2017. Toowoomba Queensland.

Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilgai

Published by

Sephrah

I am a Soil Science PhD student at Lincoln University, New Zealand.

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