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Illinois FFA soils judgers win big at Farm Progress ShowIllinois FFA soils judgers win big at Farm Progress Show

Cambridge FFA took top honors in both team and individual, as a record number of students competed during the 2023 Farm Progress Show.

Tom J. Bechman

September 7, 2023

2 Min Read
A large group of people in and around a soil pit
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Contest organizers provided a practice pit at the Farm Progress Show so FFA members could get acclimated before judging the actual contest pits. Tom J. Bechman

The tradition of holding a soils judging contest at the Farm Progress Show continued at the 2023 show in Decatur, Ill. Some 75 FFA members from Illinois descended on the show site to evaluate four contest pits, plus a practice pit.

Jeff Smith, Decatur, retired advertising representative for Farm Progress, helped revive the contest at the 50th anniversary show near Henning, Ill., in 2003. “They held soil judging contests at the first few shows when the Farm Progress Show began, and we wanted to bring it back to increase the educational value for FFA members who are interested in soils and attend the show,” Smith says. “We’ve held a contest every time the show has been held in Decatur, beginning in 2005.”

The 2023 edition featured the largest participation ever, with over 120 students competing from Indiana and Illinois combined. Sixteen schools fielded around 30 teams combined for the contest. Illinois FFA members competed against other Illinois FFA members for bragging rights and cash awards, provided to the winners by Farm Credit Illinois, one of the contest sponsors.

Learning experience

Gary Steinhardt, Purdue Extension soils specialist, has headed up the team selecting and evaluating pits since 2003. This year, he was joined by Scott Wiesbrook, with the Illinois Natural History Survey; Randy Staley, an independent soil consultant from Clay City, Ind.; and Ron Wamsley, a former ag teacher and recently certified soil scientist from Rensselaer, Ind.

There are both timber and prairie soils located on the land included in the Farm Progress Show site at Decatur, Steinhardt explains. “This year, we really wanted to focus on more typical Illinois soils, and we were able to do so,” he says.

That doesn’t mean each pit had over a foot of black topsoil, Wiesbrook adds. He notes that one pit had 20 inches of black topsoil, but another pit in the same field only had 5 inches of black, prairie topsoil remaining. “You can get soil erosion in these locations, too,” he says. “That particular pit was moderately eroded.”

The contest also featured four drainage classes, from poorly drained to well drained. Again, all contest pits were located within the same field.

The big winners

Farm Credit Mid-America Services and Farm Credit Illinois sponsored the contest, providing cash awards to the winners in each state. Illinois farmers are served by Farm Credit Illinois.

Here are the team winners for the Illinois side of the contest:

  1. Cambridge FFA, Advisor Trenton Taber

  2. St. Elmo FFA, Advisor Mandy Totten

  3. Williamsfield FFA, Advisor Kent Riggs

The top three individuals in the Illinois soil judging division at FPS also received cash awards from Farm Credit Illinois. Here are the winners:

  1. Emily Downing, Cambridge FFA

  2. Kyla Doubet, Williamsfield FFA

  3. Jolene Blacker, Cambridge FFA

Thanks to both Farm Credit associations for sponsoring awards. Congratulations to everyone who competed and made the 2023 Farm Progress Show soils judging contest the largest contest yet.

Read more about:

FFAIllinois FFA

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman is editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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