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
Team South Australia
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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’.
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.
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.
Getting our hands dirty texturing a Ferrosol
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.
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.
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!
When you say to someone that you’re off to Australia for a Soil Judging Competition, there’s a look that comes across their face that’s quite unique. It’s a mixture of surprise, uncertainty and I would like to say awe. After an enthusiastic explanation of what it entails; descriptions of horizons, textures and structure, the landscape and suitability for different crops, their surprised look turns to understanding and sometimes they even show enthusiasm too!
For our last practise this week went on a bit of a road trip to North Canterbury to describe a clay rich soil. Clay rich to New Zealand’s South Island standards, a whooping 35% in the B horizon! A great morning of soil science was had by all, after just about getting trampled by stock that is.
We jump on the plane to Australia bright and early Sunday morning, with a daylight savings change meaning that the 5am pick up is actually a brisk 4am. Winging our way to what is going to be a very hot week in Australia, hot competition with an extra hot heat wave to cook our Kiwi brains that are used to a daily high of 12°C over the winter. Bring it on Australia! Lincoln is coming to represent NZ!
Teams ’50 Shades of Greywacke’ and ‘The Bedrockers’ are coming for ya!
Soil judging isn’t yet as widely known as it should be, but we’re on our way to making it the well-known sport. It’s not only a challenge but a valuable skill and something to inspire enthusiasm in all.
Thanks to all the help that we have received with training, organisation and funding.
Keep an eye out for updates of our trip here (the Blog), on Facebook or Instagram!
Main Research Areas: Phosphorus. Micro-organisms. Chronosequences.
Leo grew up in Glasgow, Scotland. After completing a Bachelor of Science with Honours at the University of Glasgow he moved to New Zealand to further his education at Lincoln University. 1980 – 1984, PhD in Soil Science at Lincoln. Reaching for the highest possible qualification, Leo also completed a Doctor of Science in Soil Science at Canterbury. Returning to Lincoln in 1989 he’s never left, and is now a Professor of Biogeochemistry; 50% research (including PG supervision), 30% teaching, 20% admin.
Why soil science? “My father was a farmer, I always had an interest in Agriculture and while doing my degree I developed a greater interest in soil science.” Working at Lincoln University has allowed for Leo to focus on one area of research for more than 30 years, meaning that he has been able to continue to develop it. ‘It’ being phosphorus, or a combination of all his passions; phosphorus, micro-organisms and chronosquences where possible. This is what keeps him going, having never lost interest in it or agriculture.
Continuity is Leo’s favourite thing about the Soil’s Department at Lincoln. The Lincoln University Soil Science Department has been able to sustain the continuity of research even though there has been a lot of changes, allowing for a coherent department that is great to work in. Maintaining this number of Soil Scientists together has been really lucky, “There is no other group of soil scientists this big in the world that I know of.”
Outside of University Leo’s time is taken up being a father to three kids and some tropical fish. Also enjoying music, Cuban cigars and a good bottle of Bourbon whiskey.
D.Sc. University of Canterbury, New Zealand. 2016.
‘Biogeochemistry of Phosphorus in Soil-Plant Systems’
Ph.D. Soil Science. Lincoln College (University of Canterbury), New Zealand. 1986.
‘Chemical nature and plant availability of phosphorus present in soils under long-term fertilised irrigated pastures in Canterbury, New Zealand’
B.Sc. Honours (II i). Agricultural Chemistry. University of Glasgow, Scotland, UK. 1980.
Research Profile: Biogeochemistry of organic carbon and major nutrients in natural and managed ecosystems, with an emphasis on the nature, dynamics and bioavailability of organic and mineral forms of nutrients in the soil-plant system in relation to soil management and land use. Project areas include organic matter and nutrient dynamics in grassland and forest soils, soil chronosequence dynamics, rhizosphere processes and nutrient acquisition, relationships between soil microbial diversity and function, and the nature, and the bioavailability and mobility of phosphorus in terrestrial environments.