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.

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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

Staff Intro – Roger McLenahgan – Senior Tutor in Soil Science

Roger McLenaghen – Senior Soil Science Tutor

Roger is a local lad through and through, born in Killinchy near Leeston, he grew up on a mixed cropping farm. After Lincoln High school Roger studied for his NZ certificate in Science and Chemistry at Christchurch polytechnic. When the job as a technician came up at Lincoln University in 1974, he jumped at it. The opportunity to get a job and to get into the work force was too good to miss, and it’s that good, he’s been here ever since. Coming off a farm, the role was one he could relate to. Progressing into a tutoring role in 1980, and now a senior tutor.

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Roger, helping out the Lincoln University Soil Judging Team at the 2016 NZ Soil Judging Competition in Wanaka.

“Rog”, as he is known by the students, is a legend in the soils department. If you asked someone about their soil science experience at Lincoln Uni, I’m sure you’ll hear about Rog. He’s full of classic jokes and makes the soil science labs a great experience. He’ll tell you all about his favourite soil, “it’s like chocolate mousse dessert,” or how to cure a hangover by eating a tablespoon of clay.

Students quotes about Rog “The Man” Roger:

“The best thing about Lincoln so far is Rog.”

“Yea, I love Rog, he’s the Man!”

“42 is the answer.”

“Coffee time is compulsory and happens multiple times of day or night”

Roger’s passion for soil science and the students, working with them to help them achieve, is what keeps him going. “Finishing the year, having a break, you always look forward to the students coming back the next year.” Also working in the Soil Science Department, “It’s like a big family.” The people make it.

Outside of University, Roger is a key part of the local volunteer fire service. Also enjoying tennis, gardening and cooking.

Roger McL

Read more: Lincoln University Staff Profile

Students quotes from “Roger is the Man” Facebook page.

Staff Intro – Judith van Dijk Soil Science Tutor

Judith van Dijk – Tutor of Environmental Physics, Soil and Earth Sciences.

Judith grew up in the Netherlands, studying, living and working for 8 years in Utrecht completing a Bachelors in Earth Science and a Masters in Physical Geography. The Research project component of her Master degree was carried out at Lincoln University with Associate Professor Peter Almond. A couple of years before Judith permanently moved to New Zealand in 2012.

Earth Science became Judith’s desired study path after seeing a display at a careers expo. One month before her university enrollment due date she changed from being enrolled for Med School to a degree in Earth Science. What a great decision! Earth Science lead on to Physical Geography and from there into Soil Science, to where she is today.

After being at Lincoln University for her Master’s research for 8 months, Judith knew she wanted to come back to New Zealand to live here, so when the tutoring role became available she jumped at it. Having tutored throughout her studies in the Netherlands she really felt like she would fit the role at Lincoln.

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As a Tutor in Environmental Physics, Soil and Earth Sciences since early 2012, being in front of the class is what keeps Judith inspired in this role: “When I’m in front of the class, it’s fun, everything feels right and it just works. I love teaching and having the ability to teach applied science in a laboratory setting. I enjoy the practical approach and am always coming up with new ideas on teaching and blended learning, it’s exciting.”

Working in the Soils Department at Lincoln University, the reliability of morning tea-time is a highlight of each day. “There’s always going to be someone there, you’ll never end up alone, and the conversations can cover literally anything.” Another highlight is the way the department works as a team and how everyone is always helping each other out.

Squash, tramping, sewing, gardening, cycling and chain-sawing are a few of the things Judith does outside of work, not forgetting good beer and good food of course.

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Staff Intro – Senior Lecturer Carol Smith

Main Research Areas: Paleoclimate. Land-reclamation. Pedology.

Carol is originally from the UK, growing up in South-East England, before moving to New Zealand in 1993. She completed a BSc. (Hons) in geographical science at Portsmouth, followed by a MSc in pedology and soil survey at Reading and then a PhD in soil science at Aberdeen.

Paleoclimate – a climate prevalent at a particular time in the geological past.

Pedology – the study of soils in their natural environment. The scientific study of soils and their weathering profiles.

It was her undergraduate focus on geomorphology, pedology, combined with micro-morphology while at Reading, that got her into the area of research she follows today. “The paleoclimate record in soils and landscapes is relevant to our understanding of the extent of past climate change; it offers a point of reference to computer models of future climate”. Carol is also passionate about land rehabilitation and the opportunities that using recycled organic materials can have on improving soil quality.

“Looking at New Zealand’s past climate through soils is very exciting.”

Carol Smith at Soil Judging Comp 2016

Carol started at Lincoln University as a tutor alongside the legendary Phil Tokin in 1993. Following a move to Sydney in 1997 with her young family and a stint in the private sector as an environmental consultant, she returned to Lincoln in 2005 as a lecturer in soil science. She was appointed to her present role as HoD in 2017. Carol’s inspiration in this role is being able to work with people and help them do their job to the best of their ability; whether that is through teaching, research or university management.

“It’s all about the people – the staff and students in the Soil Department; we all work together as a good team. We are small enough to know each other and we also have a few adventures along the way.”

In her down time Carol makes the most of the outdoors, seeking a balance between a busy work week and active relaxation on the weekends, when she can be found hitting the Port Hills on her bike. Skiing and tramping are also favourites when the seasons allow, as well as catching up with her two young adult children (when they’re not asking for money or to borrow the car). “Exploring NZ, all those hidden, beautiful corners.”

Find out more: Carol Smith Lincoln University Staff Profile

Carol Smith Blog Photo_B&W

Staff Intro – Professor Leo Condron

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.

Find out More: Professor Leo Condron Lincoln University Staff Profile

Leo Condron Blog Photo_B&W

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.

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Staff Intro – Associate Professor Jim Moir

Associate Professor Jim Moir.

Main Research Areas: Soil Fertility & Plant Growth Relationships. Fertilisers.

Growing up on a Dairy farm in Taranaki, Jim had an eye for agriculture from a young age. While at Massey University working in detail with soil chemistry and plant growth relationships, Jim was inspired to follow the path of research he specialises in today. Completing a Bachelor of Agriculture along with a Post-grad diploma, Masters and PhD in Soil Science before coming to Lincoln University.

17 years at Lincoln University, now an Associate Professor in the Agriculture and Life Sciences, Soil Science Department. Jim is a senior researcher, postgraduate supervisor and undergraduate lecturer. As well as his on campus research and teaching, Jim spends time working on national and international projects and extension – both on and off farm science communication and research.

Investigating the unknown and making new discoveries is what keeps Jim inspired in his work. His favourite thing about the Lincoln University Soil Science Department is being able to collaborate and work with such great people; valued colleagues and students. Outside of University Jim is an avid traveler, book reader and socialite, enjoying catching up with friends for a cold one.

Jim Moir - Blog Photo