The Virginia Tech Hokies Soil Judging Team finished first out of 21 teams at the 2022 National Collegiate Soils Contest sponsored by the Soil Science Society of America and hosted by The Ohio State University April 18-23 near Marysville, Ohio.
The last sweep of all three events — individual, group, and team — was by Auburn University in 2015.
The Hokies finished in first place, followed by North Carolina State University, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, the University of Maryland, and the University of Delaware. The Hokies also finished first in the group judging event, followed by the University of Rhode Island, West Virginia University, and Utah State University.
Ben Atkins of Virginia Tech captured first place in the individual contest. The top four students were invited to participate in the fourth International Union of Soil Science International Soil Judging Contest in Sterling, Scotland, in August.
Following behind Atkins were: Curtis Murphy, North Carolina State University, second place; Isaac Nollen, University Wisconsin-Platteville, third place; Kkennadi Griffis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, fourth place; and Clare Tallamy, Virginia Tech, fifth place. All four Hokies placed in the top 17 out of 84 participants.
This is the seventh national championship for Virginia Tech and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the second-most of any school. Virginia Tech finished second in both the 2019 and 2018 contests and first in the 2020 Virtual Soil Judging Contest, held to replace the on-site contest because of the pandemic.
The students practiced twice per week in the classroom and the field and had homework assignments weekly.
In Ohio, they spent three intensive practice days describing soils derived from glacial till, outwash, lacustrine sediments, and loess. They braved freezing temperatures, snow and sleet, high winds, pits partially filled with water, and muddy conditions before the weather finally cleared up for the two competition days.
“This contest was very well attended because it was the first in-person national event since the pandemic began,” said coach John Galbraith, a professor of soil and wetland sciences in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences. “I think soil and agriculture students across America were anxious to get outside and practice their field skills before they graduated.
“Soil judging is a perfect way to enhance their resume and gain some practical field skills at the same time as they are learning more about glaciated soils in the Corn Belt and meeting students from other universities,” Galbraith said. “The contest host held lectures for them about the unique geology of the area, and they were able to see how the clayey soils were very wet at this time of year and very susceptible to accelerated runoff and erosion during heavy rains. Soil erosion is a major concern for local farmers.”