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.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

2016 Region V Soil Judging - Practice Day 3: Wanahoo Reservoir

The team's final day of practice was a short one - two pits at the Wanahoo Reservoir site (two Argiudolls formed in loess on a summit and backslope). Our practice pits were dual-utilized by the Regional FFA Land Judging contest in the morning.

The level of discussion on this year's team has still never ceased to amaze me - our students are asking and answering questions that go far beyond the boxes on the scorecard and written rules of interpretation. They are reading landscapes and placing soils and parent materials in context, applying fundamental principles from other classes, and carefully considering the implications of soil properties for management. These discussions lead to increased confidence in developing rationales for decision-making, an important skill for all resource professionals.

Tomorrow morning brings contest day on what looks to be a frosty October morning. Wish the Gophers luck!

Individual judging at the Wanahoo-1 practice site (an Argiudoll on a summit formed in loess)
Panoramic perspective of the Wanahoo site
An Argiudoll against the backdrop of a clear October sky!
New team uniform? Flannel.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

2016 Region V Soil Judging - Practice Day 2: UNL Agricultural Research and Development Center and Wanahoo Reservoir

The team stuck it out for a long 10-hour day in the field today, completing 3 group pits and 2 individual pits. The team made the drive north and east from Lincoln into the Todd Valley, a large valley cut into the glaciated uplands by the Platte River before it was abandoned in favor of the modern day Platte River Valley. We met Keith Glewen (Extension Educator) at the UNL Agricultural Research and Development Center (ARCD) who gave us some background on the landscape and pumped the first pit out for us (thanks Keith!). 

The contest organizers arranged a nice catena of soils which exposed our students to the wide variety of parent materials in the Todd Valley, ranging from modern alluvium to old alluvium, eolian sand, and loess:

Todd Valley landscape
Stefan Swenson considering landforms
Bri Egge (L) and Kathleen Hobert (R) describing and sampling a Hapludoll formed in alluvium over eolian sands
The team then travelled to the Wanahoo reservoir, where they described 2 soils - a Hapludalf formed in loess on a backslope (likely a former eroded Mollisol), and an Argialboll (!) in an upland depression:

Luke Ratgen and Anthony Bosch work on a description in a pair

Excellent prismatic structure in the argillic horizon of an Argialboll formed in loess

Sara Bauer (R), Hatley Christensen (C) and Bri Egge (L) work as a small team to complete a description

Goldy meets his first Argialboll!!
Tomorrow brings the final day of practice and the coaches meeting. The team is in very high spirits and looking forward to the contest on Thursday! We are at one with our textural triangles.

Monday, October 10, 2016

2016 Region V Soil Judging - Practice Day 1: UNL Nine-Mile Prairie

The team began practice pits by describing 3 Argiudolls in some morning wind and driving rain at the University of Nebraska's Nine-Mile Prairie, completing 2 group judged pits and 1 individual pit. The pits selected on pre-Illinoian glacial till uplands allowed our students to see examples of soils with both intact loess mantles and completely eroded (and removed) loess mantles. The Sioux Quartzite erratics and secondary carbonates in the old till were reminiscent of materials that several of our students experienced in Kansas last spring. Although they weren't on the official scorecard, several team members noted (and their coach agreed) that there were reasonably well developed pressure faces/slickensides in one of the profiles. After lunch, the weather broke and gave us a nice cloudy October Nebraska afternoon. Looking forward to new landscapes and soils tomorrow! We are at one with our textural triangles.

Nine-Mile Prairie Pre-Illinoian glaciated upland landscape.
Sioux Quartzite erratic (L), clay films, and redoximorphic features (R) in Pre-Illinoian till.
Secondary carbonates and redoximorphic features in Pre-Illinoian till.
Great attitudes and hard work in wind and driving rain!

2016 Region V Soil Judging - The Road to Lincoln

After waking up on another beautiful fall morning in Luverne, MN, the Gophers drove north to the Van Grootheest property near Hardwick (thanks Eric!) to describe soils on a loess-mantled pre-Wisconsin glacial landscape. The team was back on the road to Lincoln by mid-morning on Sunday, stopping at the Murray Hill overlook near Little Sioux, IA in the Loess Hills to get an up close perspective of the hills and their source, the broad valley of the Missouri River. We reached Lincoln by 3:30PM, checked into our hotel, and drove to the University of Nebraska's Hardin Hall, where we broke bread with other Region V teams and received an introduction to Eastern Nebraska's geology, soils and landscapes by Dr. Paul Hanson (thanks Paul!). Tomorrow we begin our practice pits - we appreciate all of the hard work that has gone in to organizing this contest and are looking forward to learning and expanding our horizons this week! We are at one with our textural triangles.

UMN Soil Judging at the Murray Hill overlook near Little Sioux, Iowa.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

2016 Region V Soil Judging Kickoff: Lamberton, MN

The University of Minnesota Soil Judging team left Borlaug Hall bright and early on Saturday morning to spend a beautiful fall day in Lamberton, MN describing several Hapludolls at the University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center (SWROC). From Lamberton, the team headed south and west up onto the Prairie Coteau to Luverne, MN. Tomorrow will bring a short jaunt up to the Van Grootheest farm near Hardwick, MN and then on to Lincoln Nebraska for the start of contest festivities. We are at one with our textural triangles!

Gopher Soil Judging ready to roll!
SWROC Des Moines Lobe ground moraine landscape at Lamberton, MN
Hapludoll on a summit formed in Des Moines Lobe till

Monday, October 3, 2016

2016 Region V Soil Judging - Pine County and St. Paul Experimental Fields

An update on team activities: On Saturday, September 24th, our students ventured to Pine County to describe some Aqualfs formed in loess over Superior Lobe till. Saturday, October 1st was spent in  St. Paul scouting for new teaching pit locations.

Our team embarks on their journey to Nebraska in just 6 short days. A huge advance thank you to Dr. Paul Hanson (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) and many others who have been organizing this year's contest. It is sure to be an excellent experiential learning opportunity for all students and faculty involved.

Look for daily posts once we leave and be sure to follow us on Instagram! @umnsoiljudging (

Luke Ratgen, Julia Otten and Anthony Bosch describing an Aqualf in Pine County, MN

Platy structure in an Aqualf E horizon - Pine County.

Goldy posing with some outwash - St. Paul.