Sunday, April 9, 2017

2017 NACTA Soil Judging - Manhattan, KS - Epilogue

Our team arrived home to St. Paul in the early morning hours on Saturday. I'd like to extend a huge thank you to this spring's NACTA team for their hard work, dedication, and positive attitudes. A well deserved congratulations goes to team captain Stefan Swenson for taking a strong 2nd place out of a field of 60 judgers.

Next fall brings Redfield, South Dakota and the lacustrine plain of Glacial Lake Dakota.

In the meantime, keep your mind open, your spirit free, and be at one with your soil texture triangle!

We'll see you in the pits!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

2017 NACTA Soil Judging - Manhattan, KS - Contest Day!

The contest was held on the high prairie of the Flint Hills. Winds were low, the sun was out, and it was generally perfect conditions for the contestants.
Sara Bauer working on soil texture 
Stefan Swenson working on color
Gabe Benitez ponders clay percentages while overlooking the Flint Hills
2017 NACTA Judging Team post-contest: Front Row (L-R); Sara Bauer, Julia Otten, Kathleen Hobert. Back Row (L-R) Gabe Benitez, Stefan Swenson (Captain), Tessa Belo, Ilya Swanson, Nic Jelinski (Coach)

2017 NACTA Soil Judging - Manhattan, KS - Practice Days

Seven University of Minnesota students travelled to Manhattan, KS from April 3-7 to compete in the 2017 NACTA Soil Judging Contest hosted by Kansas State University. The team left in the early morning hours on Monday, April 3rd and arrived at our home for the week, Tuttle Creek State Park, just outside of Manhattan by late afternoon.

Sunset over the Tuttle Creek Reservoir, on the porch of our cabins for the week in Tuttle Creek State Park
We spent Tuesday describing 4 pits on a catena in Rannells Prairie, south of Manhattan. We beat the rain in the morning, but it rained hard the rest of the day. The Manhattan area received over 10 inches of rain in the past 10 days and the pits were generally very wet. Dr. Mickey Ransom (KSU contest organizer) and his crew were hard at work pumping pits every day. Thanks Mickey!

Tessa Belo (R) and Julia Otten (L) describing a soil formed in colluvium over residuum on a backslope on Rannells Prairie.

This gully was dry last spring and fire danger was severe. A different story this year!

Footslope pit at Rannells Prairie with well developed slickensides formed in colluvium.
Wednesday brought a break in the rain, some beautiful sunshine, and two pits differing in their development near Ashland Bottoms, in the Kansas River Valley.
Stream terrace overlooking the Kansas River floodplain in Ashland Bottoms 
An Entic Haplustoll on a 20-yr floodplain near Ashland Bottoms
A much better developed Typic Haplustoll (with a cambic subsurface diagnostic horizon) on can older stream terrace above the floodplain
Thursday brought more sunshine and 2 pits on a catena at the KSU Agronomy Farm North. Two other practice pits on the catena (at a footslope and stream terrace position) were completely full of water so we did auger/gutter descriptions as best we could!
KSU Agronomy Farm North catena
The completed soil-landscape synthesis diagram that we worked on every night of the week.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

2016 Region V Soil Judging - Epilogue (or, 6 reasons to hire a Soil Judger!)

As Soil Judging comes to a close for the fall semester, I am extremely proud of our team and their 1st place in Group Judging. This fall's class was the largest ever (18 registered students, 14 of whom traveled to Nebraska) and had no shortage of passion, enthusiasm, inquisitiveness, and love for the soil resource!

Although we missed ASA Nationals this year, a portion of our team will be traveling to the NACTA contest (hosted by Kansas State University) in April, 2017. If you've been around Soil Judging for more than a minute (and certainly, I hope, if you've been on any of my teams), you know that results are secondary to the educational and skill development opportunities that Soil Judging provides. Often, the black and white boxscores don't translate to the value of the educational experience or the depth of knowledge of the participants - for example, this fall we had an unbelievable number of high-level conversations about geomorphology, hydrology and soil formation; and our Minnesota students were the most highly engaged group in asking and answering questions posed by our Nebraska host, Dr. Paul Hanson - questions that often went beyond the scope of the contest and scorecards.

With that being said, some of our Judgers are graduating in December. Here are 6 reasons to hire a Soil Judger!:

1. Trained Observers. Soil Judgers are trained observers, individuals who can recognize subtleties in soil materials and landscapes. These observational skills translate well into many other disciplines and tasks - you can be sure a Judger won't let any clues slide by them!
Stefan Swenson, Kathleen Hobert, Dom Christensen, and Andrea Williams making observations of soil morphology in a Nebraska Hapludalf. 
2. Fieldcraft. Our Soil Judgers are practiced in fieldcraft. They understand the value of a positive attitude in less-than-ideal conditions; they come prepared to work in all weather, without assumptions that things will be "provided"; and they know that Rite-In-The-Rain paper is one of the greatest inventions of the modern world!!
No problems on a windy, wet, rainy day for this group - still smiling after 8 hours in the field!
3. Rational Decision-Making. We train our Soil Judgers to make rational decisions. In other words, according to any good dictionary: decisions which are "based on or in accordance with reason or logic" or "based in reason or understanding". If you ask any of our Judgers why they made a particular decision, you won't hear any answers such as "someone told me it was this way, so I guess it is this way". Instead, you will hear a reasoned, thought-out response which is logical and related to an understanding of the problem at hand.
Mekuria Zemede completing an individual scorecard.
4. Evidence Based Decision-Making. Not only are Soil Judgers trained to make rational decisions, they are also trained to make evidence-based decisions. In other words, when asked why a particular decision was made, our Judgers will articulate a line of reasoning that cites specific lines of evidence and refers to recorded and quantified observations. Next time, I'll post a video of our group discussing discrepancies in their individual scorecards. You will hear our students expressing their particular line of reasoning based on the evidence at hand, while reconciling the differences in their opinions with the views of others.
Reconciling individual scorecards after an individual practice pit to construct a group consensus scorecard through the Socratic method. Evidence-based arguments for individual decisions are presented and discussed.
5. Functional Team-Members. Our Judgers learn how to work in small teams, respecting team diversity and uniquely contributing to team outcomes.
Andrea Williams, Mari Cartwright, Sara Bauer, Bri Egge, and Mekuria Zemente contributing to a group scorecard.
6. Broader Context. Most of our Judgers have had numerous real-world experiences which have broadened their perspectives and expanded the context they bring to new situations. This helps them calibrate to new landscapes based on a larger pool of accumulated knowledge - a valuable asset!
Murray Hill overlook near Little Sioux, IA - on top of the Loess Hills looking at their Pleistocene source, the Missouri River floodplain.

Thank you again to all of our supporters. Check back in April for updates on our team's travel to Manhattan, Kansas. 

Be at one with your textural triangles!


Sunday, October 16, 2016

2016 Region V Soil Judging - Results

The Friday morning awards banquet brought some good news: our team took 1st Place in Group Judging, edging out Kansas State by a single point! This is the only the 4th time in the 26 year history of Group Judging in Region V (thanks to Professor Emeritus Dr. Terry Cooper for advocating for the Group Judging portion of the contest!) that the University of Minnesota has taken 1st place. Additionally, Sara Bauer took 10th place in the Individual Judging awards. Congratulations to all members of our team who each uniquely contributed to the team's overall success, and a huge thank you to our Captain Luke Ratgen for his leadership. The team hit the road shortly after the awards breakfast in Lincoln and arrived home safely to St. Paul by late afternoon on Friday. Please join me in congratulating this year's team on their success!

2016 Region V Soil Judging Team - Lincoln, NE - 1st Place Group Judging, 10th Place Individual (Sara Bauer). Top Row (L-R): Allison Harvey, Mari Cartwright, Bri Egge, Tessa Belo, Anthony Bosch, Dom Christensen, Julia Otten, Hatley Christensen, Nic Jelinski (Coach). Bottom Row (L-R): Mekuria Zemede, Andrea Williams, Stefan Swenson,
Luke Ratgen (Captain), Kathleen Hobert, Sara Bauer (10th Place Individual). 
Region V Students and Coaches, October 14th, 2016, Lincoln, NE: South Dakota State University (Blue), Iowa State University (Red Polos), Missouri State University (Grey Polos), University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Red Longsleeves), Kansas State University (Purple Shirtsleeves), University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (Maroon Longsleeves).

Friday, October 14, 2016

2016 Region V Soil Judging - Rapid Update on Results!

The University of Minnesota Soil Judging team has taken 1st place in Group Judging at the Region V Contest! The "Minnesota Machine" continues to roll! Congratulations also to Sara Bauer, who took 10th place in individual judging!

2016 Region V Soil Judging - Contest Day

Contest Day! A pre-dawn wake up on a frosty Nebraska morning was no problem for our high-speed team. We drove north and west out of Lincoln to the contest sites, all with beautiful views of dawn-break over the glaciated uplands of eastern Nebraska. The teams got organized and started the two individual pits, which took most of the morning hours:

The Minnesota Formation
Region V schools preparing for the individual pits
Frost on the goldenrods as the contest begins
Individual Pit #1
Stefan Swenson doing some early morning coloring

Captain Luke Ratgen claims his spot on the spoil pile
Sara Bauer prepping to go into the pit
Mekuria Zemede prepping texture samples

Drea Williams pondering textural classes
Bri Egge deep in clay percentage thought
Hatley Christensen finding the right light for coloring
After lunch, the teams and coaches packed up and drove north again to the site of the 3 group pits, all on a till upland. Rotations were completed by mid-afternoon and after the contest, the official judges took the students back through the pits in what has now become a Region V tradition, promoting on-site education and discussion.

Team picture before afternoon group judging
Minnesota A cranking out some morphology with the "Mekuria motion"
Contemplating horizon boundaries in Team Pit #4
Minnesota B discussing landforms before entering Team Pit #4

Minnesota A members Luke Ratgen, Stefan Swenson and Allison Harvey
collecting horizon samples. Note that Captain Luke Ratgen is an expert multi-tasker,
eating and describing at the same time!
The results of the contest will be announced at tomorrow morning's awards breakfast. Although the team is anxious to hear the results, regardless of the outcome of this specific contest the destination has been in the journey. This fall's team is the largest group of soil judgers in school history, many of them Soil Science minors. They can now say they have crossed the Des Moines Lobe till plain, stood on top of the Loess Hills overlooking the Missouri River valley, and discussed soil morphology, genesis and interpretation in both alluvial and pre-Illinoian glacial landscapes of eastern Nebraska. These experiences have changed the way they read landscapes and understand the properties, use and management of our soil resource. They represent a bright future, and they are at one with their textural triangles.