This was Purdue University's year to host the Collegiate Region 3 soil judging contest. The event was held in Bartholomew County last month. The Purdue team captured first place and will compete in the national contest next spring.
Gary Steinhardt, Purdue Extension soils scientist, is the long-time coach of the team. He's assisted by Cathy Egler. Steinhardt says the goal was to give everyone, including college students from across the region, a chance to see Indiana soils.
Officials used four practice sites in Jennings and Johnson Counties to show contestants everything from typical Wisconsin till soils to outwash soils underlain with gravel to sand dunes – yes, they exist in Jennings and Bartholomew County – and loess soils with dense layers called fragipans. Even bedrock was included. It's like a trip around the country in one fell swoop for soil judgers.
Purdue students placing in the top 10 included Arthur Franke, first, Betta McGaughey, second, Sarah Letsinger, sixth, Chelsea Emenhiser, eighth, Shelby Sigman, ninth and Morgan Winder, tenth.
Other team members include Jacob Burke, Alyssa Kuhn, Alexis Pearson, Emily Smith, Dakota Westphal, Tiffani Goodman, Amanda Locker, Andrew Smith and Maddie Smith.
At the collegiate level, there is individual team judging, which is still used to determine national competition. Top-ranking teams move on to the national contest. Purdue won that competition. There is also a group judging event where team members work together to come up with correct classification of soils. Purdue placed second in the group judging event.
At this level, students identify horizons and get deep in actual taxonomy of the soils. Students who judge for Purdue are enrolled in a class which teaches these fundamentals of soil science.
Several of Steinhardt's past students have become soil scientists. Others are in a range of professions where they use this information, from ag teachers to county Extension educators.