Illini Soil Judging Team Comes Home Decorated

October 13, 2015
2015 Soil Judging Team, with Coach Robert G. Darmody

By Abigail Peterson, President of the 2015 team:

The 2015 Regional Illini Soil Judging Team came home decorated. We got first place in the two group pits (pits that the team judged all together), second place overall (a combination of the individually judged pits and the group judged pits), and I had the honor of receiving third place individually and bringing the Burt Ray (awarded to the number one soil judger in Illinois) home to the University of Illinois. I have been truly blessed by this opportunity that my professor, my mentors, and my team has given me and I would recommend the soil judging experience to anyone.

So what is soil judging?

Soil has a taxonomy, kind of like animals and plants, but it is harder to define because there is no genetic material to trace it back to ancestry. There are 12 basic soil orders according to the USDA taxonomy classification. To determine the taxonomy, among other important information, soil scientists must see the profile by taking a soil core or digging a pit in the ground. For the interest of the soil judgers, a pit in the ground gets the job done. Using the information gathered from the pit and the surrounding landscape, soil scientists can determine the classification of the soil and other important information such as drainage class, effective soil depth, and parent material. This data allows scientists to determine if that soil is acceptable for basements, septic tanks, and roads.

All of this data is very important in the practical sense for the profesionals, but for the amateurs, such as soil judging teams, they try to determine this information as close to the professional soil scientists as possible. The closer you get, the more points you receive.

The regional soil judging competition this past week involved seven schools from Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Purdue was the host this year and the seven schools gathered in Columbus, Indiana to judge 16 practice pits and six competition pits. The practice pits are so that the competitors can see the local soils of the region before the competition. Experience is a very important factor in soil judging because the more you see, the more you know. Anybody can learn taxonomy in the classroom, but until you see a fragipan or a soft bedrock in person, you probably will have a hard time determining what it is initially.

Over the course of four days, I saw numerous C horizons, a fragipan, two inceptisols, too many hapludalfs to count, and four other soil orders in the form of delicious monolith cakes. I was able to network with other professionals in my field and even was asked about graduate school at Purdue. I have gained so much from soil judging and clearly it has paid off. In my three competitions, I have made great friends, gained valuable field experience, found a valuable letter of recommendation for graduate school and scholarships, and have received guidance and opportunities from renowned professionals in the field.

Learn more about the group on their website: