The day started out like any other, up at 6am, breakfast, coffee, coffee, coffee and then all tumble into the van. By the time we got to the meeting point on the University Campus in Toowoomba we were all pretty much awake. Awake enough to take a few pre-competition selfies! The teams were looking pretty snazzy in their green competition shirts, with the “Bedrockers” and “50 Shades of Greywacke” printed across the back.
As a small prelude before we get into the competition details I would just like to refer back to one of the Blog’s previous Soil Judging Articles written by Carol Smith, Lincoln University and Sam Carrick, Landcare Research, Lincoln (read full article here).
“Soil judging has a long and distinguished history in North America; first initiated in 1961 and held annually at a different host institution each year. In North America, soil judging is taken very seriously and is seen as a key component of the soil science curriculum and an important part of the graduate attributes of all soil science graduates. There is stiff competition to be selected into the soil judging team, and team members train weekly during the competition season.
But what exactly IS soil judging and why should we care about it here in New Zealand? There is certainly more to soil judging than just “pedology by stealth”. We would all agree it is advantageous for every soil science graduate to be able to describe a soil at a basic level and from this, to make some interpretations therein: whether for land use, fertiliser recommendations, nutrient fluxes, irrigation scheduling or waste disposal.
We teach soil science in a changing world. Students who study soil science increasingly do so as part of other allied disciplines like agronomy, environmental science, horticulture; and often at an introductory level. But there is also an increasing need internationally for graduates with soil science expertise. A wide-ranging study of teaching soil science around the globe found that the initial focus of soil science teaching is geared towards capturing the attention of the student, and is then followed by courses that deepen that knowledge (Hartemink et al., 2014). Moreover, these global studies have shown that a field component remains vital in our soil science teaching – both at the introductory and advanced levels. Students like learning in the field; it helps them to comprehend soils as not only part of the landscape but also part of a functioning ecosystem. In the field, there is more time to think and to interact with staff so that learning occurs at a deeper level. In a study of graduates who had majored in soil science (as part of a larger study of soil science specific teaching principles) the most effective learning activities reported were: field work (43%), laboratories (36%), tutorials/group discussions (11%), followed by lectures (8%), presentations/assessments (7%) and writing reports (5%) (Field et al., 2011). Clearly, field based learning can only help students in their soil science studies.“
Competition Day of the 5th National Australian Soil Judging Competition, all teams were loaded onto a bus and taken to an undisclosed location. Two soil pits for the teams and one for the individual competition.
The bus ride there was surprisingly quiet, the soil puns and witty comments of the last few days weren’t forth-coming. Everyone was preparing mentally for the challenge ahead.
Biggsy gave us a run down of the day and we were put into groups to rotate around the three pits. The day was windy but the sun was out, soon becoming a scorcher and giving the water spray bottles another purpose; they make great face misters.
First rotation of the day, Team “50 Shades of Greywacke” started at the individual pit where Josh Nelson, Verina Telling and Irene Setiawan competed, while team “Bedrockers” were at Pit #2 of the team soil pits.
The clock started and the count down was on, 90 minutes to complete a full soil description. Thanks to the practice over the last few months and especially the two practice days, we felt confident with completing the description within the allocated time. Teams swapped, 5 minutes in, 5 minutes out for the first 20 minutes, then 10 minutes in 10 minutes out, with the last 30 minutes being free entry for any team.
Bedrockers were out for the first 5 minutes so the focus was on the surrounding land-forms, slope and surface condition an coarse fragments. A bit of entertainment was provided by one of the boys as he was looking at the soil surface condition surrounding the pit, promptly running back over to the tent after jumping a couple of foot into the air when he came across something rustling in the grass.
For the first 5 minutes in the soil pit, the focus was on defining horizons and boundaries so that the team “texturers” could get the samples to work into a good texturing bolus. Over the last two days we had been working hard to calibrate our fingers to the high clay content soil textures of Australian soils, lucky to find anything with less than 30% clay.
After filling out all the components of the score-sheet with 20 minutes to spare, we all descended into the soil pit to discuss all the aspects of our description, to confirm as a team that we were happy with our decisions. Thumbs up all round and we were ready for the next challenge.
Something that was noted by all through out the day was how much we had learnt over the last couple of practice days. Hands on exposure to new exciting Australian soils and how much they contrast to New Zealand. The knowledge we gained from the very helpful and encouraging organisers was absolutely priceless.
The other teams returned from completing the individual pits and we were up. Having not entered in the individual pits competition at registration we were offered the chance to give it a go 5 minutes before it started. Camilla Gardiner and I (Sephrah Rayner) took this opportunity, even through all the practice had been focused on team work, it was worth a shot.
The individual competition was structured much the same as the team pits but all the components of the description were completed by one person. Sorting out our gear we jumped straight into it, juggling books, geo-picks, texturing bolus and petri dishes of dispersing samples, the 90 minutes flew by! I don’t understanding how timing 5 minute and then 10 minute intervals makes 90 minutes seem so short!
Coming out of the individual pit on our way back to lunch, an then the last pit of the day, we were slightly dubious as to the quality of our descriptions. The heat had also started getting to us, Camilla having cooked herself in the sun while contemplating all her texture samples one arm clearly much pinker in colour than the other.
Meanwhile “50 Shades of Greywacke” were completing their first team pit, with both teams off to complete their 2 and final team pit after lunch. Lunch break could have been a competition in itself, “how many people can you fit under 2 gazebos?”. Apparently competition day was the hottest day in September on record since the 1930s and we were definitely feeling it.
The final pit of the day was the most challenging as everyone was getting hot and tired by this stage. There was going to be a group discussion of the pits at the end of the day but due to the temperature this was called off and we all happily climbed back onto the air-conditioned bus to head back to Toowoomba. What a day.
Prize giving was held that evening, where everyone got to enjoy a well deserved cold beverage or two. While the New Zealand teams didn’t place in the team competition we did in the Individual competition! Camilla Gardiner taking out 1st place! Josh Nelson getting 3rd and Verina Telling getting 4th (6th in the ranking, but next after 3rd is 4th place still right?!)! Well done!
Congratulations to everyone who competed this year!
|The University of Sydney||1|
|Team South Australia||2|
As noted at the NZ competition last year by Chris Baxter of University Wisconsin-Platteville that in his experience, these soil judging competitions do encourage students into the discipline: the tactile and investigative side of soil judging is something that many students can excel in and the competition aspect makes it a fun activity. It engages their curiosity to learn more about soils, and it is a powerful recruiter to University soils courses and degree programmes.
We look forward to the next one! and what a line up there is! Next year there’s not just one, but potentially three competitions! The first in Brasil at the International Congress in Rio, then hopefully one in New Zealand at the New Zealand Soil Science Conference then one in Canberra, Australia!
Comradery, companionship and competition! the perfect combination, all that and ‘expanding your horizons’ with great soils knowledge. Soil Judging is indeed the new NBA!
Expand your horizons, dig deeper!
Thanks once again to our sponsors who made this possible and all of the team that put the event together in Australia. New Zealand Sponsors were: FAR, Landcare Research, Ravensdown, NZ Society of Soil Science, Centre for Soil and Environmental Research, LRS and Lincoln University.