May 8, 1998
by Ellie Walradth
UW-RF News Bureau
The UW-River Falls soil judging team earned first place at the National Soil Judging Contest April 18 in Platteville. This is the fifth time the team has claimed the national title in the past seven years.
The team competed against 100 students from 13 two- and four-year institutions. Judging soil involves identifying, interpreting and classifying soil properties.
"The trophy isn't important. It's the learning and teaching that matters," says team advisor and plant and earth science Professor Larry Meyers. "The trophy means they learned more than everybody else."
At the competition students used a scorecard to evaluate four sites, five feet deep. They were allowed 50 minutes per site. Students identified soil layers, determined existing amounts of sand and clay in the soil, expressed the color, and then interpreted how these properties would affect land use. Students were required to determine such things as the land's slope, erosion class, surface runoff, septic tank absorption and suitability for roadfill material.
This year's team included Andrew Lucht, a junior broad area agriculture major from Antigo; Krishona Bjork, a senior agronomy major from Colfax; Tony
Roder, a junior soil science major from Elk Mound; T.J. Kennedy, a junior soil science major from Antigo; Jason Schwartz, a junior agronomy major from Preston, Minn.; Chris Bartlett, a junior conservation major from Luck; and Brad Sieler, a senior soil science major from Wisconsin Dells.
In individual honors, Kennedy took first place, Bjork placed third, Bartlett earned fourth and Roder earned seventh.
Meyers says the competition is a lot of fun for students, yet it is a very grueling event. He attributes the team's success to them being well-trained.
"It's like signing up to take four one-hour exams in a row on a Saturday morning," says Meyers. "In the classroom, I'm very demanding-you can't make mistakes when evaluating soils. The more students know (going to the competition), the more fun it is."
Team member Tony Roder would agree, believing the win is a reflection of the education the team has received at UW-RF. Roder also says the competition provides students with the opportunity to meet those they may be working with in the field one day.
Before the competition, the team spent two full days practicing in the field. They had the opportunity to observe soils in the Platteville area, which has been untouched by glacier activity.
Being held at a different location in the country every year, the competition allows students to see a variety of soil types. Since there are 15,000 identified soils in the United States, the team has never encountered the same soil
twice, and, according to Meyers, that's what makes it interesting.
"When you go to a competition like this, you never loose-the contest is an excuse to go look at different soils," says Meyers. "It's the best teaching I do."
Purdue University finished second and UW-Stevens Point finished third at the competition. The contest was sponsored by the National Association of Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture.
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