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March 19, 2010
MARYVILLE, Mo. - While many Northwest students are taking to beaches and other trendy destinations during next week's spring break, the Northwest soils judging team will be getting down and dirty at the National Collegiate Soils Contest at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.
Northwest will be competing among 21 teams at the national competition, most of which are larger, well-known state schools. The contest will take place March 25-26.
During a soil judging contest, students describe and classify the soil profile in several pits. They describe the color, texture and structure, among other properties of the soil horizon. Team members use their observations to classify the parent material, water-holding ability and suitability for different uses of each soil sample. They also determine the soil characteristics within a time limit and rotate among the pits during competition. The student's final descriptions are ranked in comparison to official judges to determine the winners.
While studying soils might seem uninteresting to some, the Northwest team members' excitement can be contagious. The students say they enjoy studying how soils vary in different areas of the country. They also credit their advisor, Dr. Jamie Patton, assistant professor of agriculture, for her passion and unique teaching style.
"You can learn so much about it; it's so diverse," said Chester Greub, a junior from Gower, double majoring in agricultural business and agronomy. "Everyone thinks it's just dirt, but there's so much more that you learn."
Justin Findley, a senior from New Hampton, majoring in agronomy, said, "It takes hundreds of millions of years to form and it's kind of fascinating to think about how long ago it started. It's also fascinating that the soil that we have has been placed here by glaciers in the ice age."
The team also says their laid-back style makes them unique to their competitors.
"We don't take it as serious, but we still do well and we try hard," Findley said. "We don't sweat the details; we make it fun."
The team's ability to have fun and build camaraderie has been key to their success. In one example, the students noted, the team adopted a box turtle as its mascot when one crawled into their pit at the regional competition.
"It works for our group," said Chris Schumacher, a senior from Columbus, Neb., double majoring in agricultural business and agronomy. "Other teams will spend hours and hours in the pits and we get in there and learn what we need to learn."
Patton noted that many highly-sought internships and agricultural jobs look for candidates with soil judging experience. Soil judging contests allow students to gain direct experience with soils and land use in other regions, increase their overall knowledge and experience level and learn cooperative decision-making skills.
"We have a unique team approach to the soil contest," Patton said. "We look at it as an educational experience because most of our work is done as we practice. The contest is secondary."
The Northwest team, in its third year, qualified for its first national competition in October by winning the American Society of Agronomy Region 5 Soil Judging Contest in Columbia. Northwest, the only NCAA Division II school to compete in the regional competition claimed the victory over two-time defending national champion Kansas State University, University of Missouri-Columbia, Missouri State University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Iowa State University, University of Minnesota and South Dakota State University.
Other team members are Matt Brown (senior, agronomy, Skidmore), Eric Puckett (senior, double major in agricultural business and agronomy, Columbus, Neb.) and Jeremiah Mullock, a December graduate who is working toward a master's at Oklahoma State University. Mullock is allowed to compete with the Northwest team at the national contest because he was a member of the regional qualifying team.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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