Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will host the Southeast Regional Collegiate Soils Contest on Oct. 21–24, 2008.

The competition will be held in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Pilot, Va., with educational and social events taking place in Blacksburg. Approximately 100 students from 13 colleges and universities are expected to participate.

The competition, sponsored by the American Society of Agronomy and the Soil Science Society of America, provides students with the opportunity to participate in judging four individual soil pits. Working within time constraints, students enter soil pits where they judge the soil’s properties, such as color, texture, and structure. Students’ assessments are then compared with those of the official judges – professional soil scientists with years of experience.

“Soil judging teaches students to go to unfamiliar places; study the resources; investigate the soil, hydrology, and land use; and then describe the soil resources, classification, and land-use potential,” said John Galbraith, professor of crop and soil environmental sciences and coach of Virginia Tech’s soil judging team. “Students must perform as individuals, but must communicate and compete as a team as well, fostering their ability to work together and cooperate under stressful and time-constrained conditions.”

According to Galbraith, soil judging prepares students to enter professions that require skills in describing, classifying, and rating soils on-site for septic systems, wetlands, soil quality, development, and land-use management. Students who have participated in soil judging are often preferred for employment by consultants, engineers, and environmental agencies or selected by graduate schools because of the practical skills they develop by taking part in one or more competitions. “Students learn about the land by digging in the soil and examining the soil in their hands. By getting into the pits and digging the soil by hand, they can detect important properties not measurable by instruments alone,” said Galbraith.

The top five teams at the regional contest will be eligible to compete at the National Collegiate Soils Contest, held each spring. As the regional host, Virginia Tech is ineligible for the 2009 national contest, which will be held at Missouri State University.

Instead, Virginia Tech’s team will compete at the North American College and Teachers of Agriculture’s Soils Judging Contest at The Ohio State University’s Agricultural Technical Institute in April 2009.

Virginia Tech’s soil judging team earned second place in the team judging and overall events at the 2008 National Collegiate Soils Contest, held at the University of Rhode Island. Virginia Tech has finished in the top four teams nationally during each of the last five years.

This news release was written by Katie Skipp, a Virginia Tech senior majoring in English.

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