Putting on invitational soils judging contests can be lots of work, especially when thousands upon thousands of your friends and neighbors are coming to visit you beginning the day of the contest. Yet the joy of seeing enthusiastic young people compete at something they love keeps Farm Progress Show staff and volunteers upbeat and excited about conducting a soils judging contest when the show is held in Decatur, Ill.
Jeff Smith, an advertising salesman for Farm Progress, says the idea to restart the contest originated with the 50th anniversary show near Henning, Ill. Smith notes that he found records indicating FFA soils judging contests were held at earlier shows. He has helped provide infrastructure so the contest can happen at Decatur ever since.
It seems that more than just training on soils evaluation for high school students came out of this effort. A few years ago, Gary Steinhardt, Extension soil specialist at Purdue University, invited Scott Wiesbrook, a soil scientist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, to embark on a journey to update the Illinois rules for soils judging. The contest had not been revised for decades. Steinhardt oversaw two revisions to Indiana’s soils judging rules over the past 35 years, and was willing to help Illinois adapt similar rules tailored for that state.
New contest debuts
Good things take time. The agricultural site judging rules were revised first. Those rules were used in the 2019 Farm Progress Show invitational soils judging contest. Illinois contestants judged four agricultural pits that year and no homesite pits because the homesite rules were not yet revised.
Steinhardt and Wiesbrook continued their efforts, taking input from other soil scientists along the way. Wiesbrook held clinics for Illinois ag teachers to explain the new homesite evaluation rules this summer.
At this year’s show, Illinois and Indiana soils judgers both evaluated two homesite and two ag pits in the contest. Illinois students used the Illinois version of the new rules, and Indiana students used rules already in place in Indiana.
“It’s important to have two potential homesites to evaluate in the contest, because many of these students may not farm, but the great majority of them will own or rent a house someday,” Steinhardt says. “They can learn properties and practices now that can help them make better decisions about renting or buying a home later in life.”
Some areas in Illinois still held contests using the old rules this year. However, the new contest rules will be used in the Illinois FFA state soils judging contest. They were first tried together at the 2021 FPS invitational contest.