UACES Facebook UA-Monticello to host national soil judging contest
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UA-Monticello to host national soil judging contest

By Mary Hightower


  • National Soil Judging Contest set at UA-Monticello
  • Contest runs from April 19-24
  • 2015 is International Year of Soils

(570 words)

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MONTICELLO, Ark. – You can’t celebrate the International Year of Soils without getting your hands dirty. No one knows that better than members of the nearly two dozen teams that will compete in the national soil judging contest hosted by the University of Arkansas at Monticello April 19-24.

SOIL JUDGING - Left to right - Johan Desrochers, Lynnette “Dave” Smith, Julia Allen, and Brandy January ponder a soil pit during the 2014 regional competition in Kingsville, Texas.(U of A System Division of Agriculture photo by Kristofor Brye)

The national soil judging contest is hosted by the American Society of Agronomy and the Soil Science Society of America. Contestants examine various soil pits and are expected to correctly identify, evaluate, classify and describe four soil profiles.

The International Year of Soils declaration by the United Nations is meant to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions.

“We will have 22 teams from California to Rhode Island and places in between,” said Paul Francis, professor of agriculture at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. “Most of the students have never been to Arkansas and we are going to take the opportunity to showcase Arkansas and Arkansas agriculture with our soils.”

Francis said Stuttgart-based Riceland Foods would provide students with samples of Arkansas-grown rice to take home. Participants will also have the chance to visit the bank of the Mississippi River on one of the practice site routes.

Defending champion Virginia Tech is expected to return this year. The team won the national contest in 2012, 2010 and 2005.

The University of Arkansas soil judging team will also be competing. The team comes to the competition having won regionals in 2011 and 2012 and

THINKING IT THROUGH - Left to right, members of the University of Arkansas Soils Judging team are Lynnette “Dave” Smith, Johan Desrochers, Julia Allen, and Brandy January. We were northeast of the Kingsville, Texas, during the 2014 regional competition. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo by Kristofor Brye)

placed in the top three in 2010 and 2014.

No home field advantage

Kristofor Brye, professor-applied soil physics and pedology for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said there’s no home field advantage in this competition.

“Northwest Arkansas, which we know well, is very different than southeast Arkansas. The week of practice leading up to the actual competition will be really helpful and meaningful for us to calibrate to all the little details we need to be familiar with,” he said. The nationals “will be challenging for all teams participating for a number of reasons, but there are many very good and well-trained teams that will be coming to participate. 

“Regardless, it will be an extraordinary learning experience for my students, many of which will be graduating before being able to soil judge again after this National Contest,” Brye said. 

How it works

For this contest, each school fields a four-member team. Each team member judges three soil pits independently, then the group judges two pits as a team. Contestants will look at properties such as texture, structure, permeability, depth, slope, and runoff. The contestants then make interpretations of the soil behavior according to characteristics.

The top four individuals will be invited to represent the U.S. in the international soil judging competition in Hungary in September.

As with any event of national scope, there’s a lot of elbow grease that goes into hosting – and with such tough going, organizers will have to dig deep.

“We’ll excavate five contest pits and approximately 16 practice pits for the students to study prior to the contests,” Francis said.

The event has drawn a board base of sponsorship including the Arkansas Agriculture Department, Arkansas Farm Bureau, Drew County Farm Bureau, USDA-NRCS, Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, University of Arkansas at Monticello, the Southeast Research and Extension Center of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, UAM School of Forestry and Natural Resources, Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, Arkansas Association of Professional Soil Classifiers, Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, Drew County Conservation District, land owners and former UAM Agriculture students.

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.


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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126

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