Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talks to winners of the 1st International Soil Judging Contest during their visit to USDA on Aug. 18. American college students took the top two places in the first ever international competition.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hosted the world’s eight best soil judges last week after they earned the top spots at the 1st International Soil Judging Contest in Jeju, South Korea, in June. The Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Science Division was actively involved in organizing the event and mentoring the winners. The first and second place teams, both from the U.S., along with their coaches, participated in a roundtable discussion with Secretary Vilsack and NRCS Chief Jason Weller to talk about soil judging, the importance of soil health, and careers in soil science. In addition, NRCS’ Landscape Architect, Bob Snieckus, led the students and coaches on a tour of USDA’s green projects, including the rooftop garden and The People’s Garden.
It was the first international soil judging contest, but soil judging in the United States dates back to at least 1960. The events involve the description, classification and interpretation of soil, with the main purpose of helping students recognize important soil and landscape properties and to consider these characteristics when deciding how to use soils. A contest involves “judgers,” or students interested in soil science, entering a soil pit to examine the profile. The judgers then determine where the different horizons are and describe each one, looking at factors such as soil type, color, depth, consistency, shape, structure and other features. The soil is classified, and site and soil interpretations are performed. Read more »
Left to right: Coach John Galbraith, with students Tyler Witkowski, Kyle Weber, Emily Salkind, Caitlin Hodges, Nancy Kammerer, Bianca Peixoto, Julia Gillespie, Brian Maule, and Coach Chris Baxter.
While many tuned in to watch the World Cup to see which team would become the globe’s soccer champs, others watched a competition of a different kind: one that named the earth’s best identifiers of slices of earth.
College students from the United States competed with teams from nine other countries to see who could best interpret soil. America took first and second in the inaugural International Soil Judging Contest. And American contest Tyler Witkowski also won second place overall of 45 contestants.
“Soil and land judging at the high school and college level is a baseline entry for young people to study the land and learn to read the landscape so that they can better manage and protect it,” said Maxine Levin, with the National Soil Survey Center of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. NRCS is the United States’ premier private lands conservation agency, originally founded to conserve and map the nation’s soils. Levin helped prepare the contest and served as a judge. Read more »
These two farms have the same soils, same crops and same precipitation. The difference is that one farm uses many conservation practices that help improve soil health helping it thrive through extreme weather conditions. NRCS photo.
Soil health is always important, but extreme weather in the last few years has shown landowners just how important managing for it really is.
“The vital part of soil is topsoil, which unfortunately is also the part most susceptible to the effects of weather. That’s what makes protecting it so crucial,” said Doug Miller, soil health coordinator with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Minnesota.
The top two components of topsoil are clay content and soil organic matter that hold nutrients and water for plant use and growth. Read more »
Conservation tillage practices like no-till allow farmers to plant cash crop seeds with little disturbance to the soil, which protects the habitat for billions of the soil’s microorganisms. NRCS photo.
For years, it was believed that a certain amount of cropland soil erosion was inevitable. But by using conservation techniques like cover crops, no-till and diverse crop rotations, an increasing number of farmers are proving that we can actually build our soils and, in some instances, increase soil organic matter by as much as 3-4 percent.
In the process, these farmers are using less energy, maintaining or increasing production and improving their bottom lines. And that’s a reason to celebrate today—Earth Day 2014. Read more »
What's underneath? Healthy soil has amazing water-retention capacity. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service is celebrating Earth Day by highlighting the importance of soil health.
Earth Day is next Tuesday. To meet the growing sustainability challenges of the 21st Century, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is reminding people that many of the solutions are right at our feet — in the soil.
Here are the top five reasons NRCS says why on Earth Day 2014 you should “root” for soil health farmers: Read more »
Earth Team volunteer Meghan Zenner assisted NRCS soil scientists with taking soil samples in a remote forest in Minnesota. Photo from NRCS.
A group of dedicated volunteers helped make it possible for soil scientists with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to collect soil samples in remote parts of Minnesota.
Today kicks off National Volunteer Week, and NRCS is celebrating the hard work of Earth Team volunteers like the seven people in Minnesota who aided in the soil survey.
Earth Team volunteers, the agency’s volunteer corps, make a big difference, said Larissa Schmitt, a soil scientist with NRCS. “The volunteers’ wilderness skills were a huge time savings to the soil scientists,” she said. Read more »