Soil Judging Team Brings Gopher Pride Across the Midwest

November 07, 2023
Two photographs of members of the soil judging team in soil pits. The left photo is of students working in the pit. The right photo is 8 students with their 2nd place awards.



In the days leading up to a soil judging competition, a backhoe digs four pits in diverse sections of rural property across the U.S. Soon, this field will be ready for students from all over to implement the skills they learned in the classroom. Soil science students go on to careers in agriculture, conservation, education, and more. Soil judging competitions allow students to network with each other, gain invaluable field experience and receive feedback on their developing skills that they will use in their careers. 

Competition involves making observations of soil profiles, and their surrounding landscape and geological history to determine the soil’s properties, taxonomy and potential uses. Participants are scored on their accuracy in determining the landscape’s capabilities and limitations, in addition to conservation practices for long-term land use. Soil judging competitions typically involve high school and undergraduate students, judged in separate divisions. 

Networking with other scholars

There are both individual and team elements to the competition. Participants fill out a scorecard determining the soil’s physical and chemical properties in both the team and individual portions of the competition. Team pits mimic the collaboration required of many researchers and professionals in the field.

Learning from other competitors is another advantage to Soil Judging competitions. Team member Nate Orlyk, a senior at UMN, enjoys the recent addition of ‘jumble judging’ in our region alongside standard individual and team segments. 

“Mixing students from multiple schools gives us a chance to work in the field with people who have learned different strategies/techniques for recognizing soil features and is also just a great way to connect to others interested in soils,” explains Orlyk.

Many undergraduates on the team go on to enroll in Soil Science Masters programs. The regional and national competitions allow them to network with professors from other universities and can provide a stepping stone to that next step in their career. Many graduate programs and jobs require field experience, for which soil judging competitions certainly qualify. 

Gopher Pride

While it may not be a football game, you can still feel the University of Minnesota pride out in fields across the country. 

“We chant the Minnesota rouser and carry our flag to every pit,” says Orlyk. “This helps us have a lot of fun, so stress is low and it makes us great communicators in the team pits. This competition creates in general positive attitude and enthusiasm for soil, which will stick with me forever.”

In October, the UMN team placed 2nd at the regional competition at South Dakota State University, scoring only 2 points below the 1st place team. In the coming months, the soil judging team will be preparing for nationals in Iowa in April 2024. 

Give to the Max Day is November 16th, 2023. Your donation allows this dedicated team to travel to nationals, where they will compete against even more schools and hone their soil judging skills to the max. 

Donate Here to help our Soil Judging Team compete at Nationals

Keep up with the team on Instagram