U.S. Student Teams Win First-Ever International Soil Judging Contest
In the U.S. alone, thousands of soil scientists use the skill of “soil judging” in their daily jobs. They look at and feel the soil to determine its health, carbon content, drainage properties and other factors. Using only their eyes, sense of touch and a limited set of tools, they make land usage recommendations about agriculture, construction, wastewater treatment, recreation and more. In addition, many companies who hire crop advisors look for excellent soil judging skills. Indeed, the skills honed by soil judging are used by soil scientists around the world.
For this reason, the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) sent eight soil science students to the twentieth World Congress of Soil Science, Jeju Island, South Korea last week. Aided by two coaches, the students competed in the first International Soil Judging Contest. The students competed on two U. S. teams—the teams took first and second place in the overall competition, against thirteen teams. Tyler Witkowski, University of Maryland, placed second out of 45 contestants in the individual competition. Emily Salkind, Virginia Tech; Nancy Kammerer, Penn State; Julia Gillespie, Virginia Tech and Caitlin Hodges, University of Georgia finished fourth through eighth, respectively.
“Learning how to describe and evaluate soils in the field is an important part of training for soil scientists,” says Chris Baxter, the coach for the winning team, and a professor at University of Wisconsin-Platteville. “These are skills that the professional soil scientist uses every day. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them. The students worked very hard and were excellent ambassadors for the U.S. and for competitive soil judging.”
John Galbraith, a professor at Virginia Tech, was the coach for the second place team. “We are very proud of how the U.S. students represented themselves and their country, both in performance, character, and friendliness with other teams,” says Galbraith.
Students were selected based on their performance during the National Collegiate Soils Contest held earlier this year. The contest encourages team effort and individual knowledge in identifying, evaluating, classifying and describing soil profiles. The contest is a joint program of the SSSA and American Society of Agronomy. SSSA and its cooperating organization, the Agronomic Science Foundation (ASF), funded the students’ trips to Korea.
“Our experiences in Jeju were once in a lifetime opportunities,” says Witkowski. “We saw types of soils called Andisols and Melanic epipedons—which are not in abundance in the U.S. Seeing them was something new to all of us competing from the U.S. Seeing the soils was an experience, but meeting students from other countries interested in soils (and soil judging) was surreal. We had a great time meeting other people and looking at the soils.”
In the contest, participants described soil profiles using standard field techniques, classified the soil using either Soil Taxonomy or the World Reference Base, and provided interpretations for land use based on soil and site characteristics. Contestants were graded on the level of agreement between their descriptions and those made by a team of official judges from South Korea, the U.S., Australia and Hungary. The contest included an individual competition and a team competition where teams of up to four contestants worked together to create a single description. The overall team winner was determined by combining the individual and team scores.
“I had the most amazing experience being part of the first International Soil Judging Contest,” says Nancy Kammerer, a student at Penn State University. “Meeting other students from around the world, getting to see new soils and ways of classifying soils and touring the beautiful island of Jeju are all things I will remember for a lifetime. The World Congress of Soil Scientists and the Koreans were the most gracious hosts and helped to make this trip extraordinary.”
“The World Congress of Soil Science organization of Korea did a marvelous job in supporting the first international soil judging contest,” says Jan Hopmans, president of SSSA and a professor at University of California-Davis. “SSSA thought it was important to send students to the competition. Having the students meet others also studying soil science from different countries, compete and interact with them is important for global camaraderie, understanding of various cultures and a great way to jumpstart international collaborations. Also, with the International Year of Soils starting in 2015, activities such as the International Soil Judging Contest increase awareness of the relevance of soils, as the students network and share their experiences using their own social media.”
Student competitors sponsored by SSSA and ASF were: Tyler Witkowski, University of Maryland; Emily Salkind, Virginia Tech; Caitlin Hodges, University of Georgia; Kyle Weber, University of Wisconsin-Platteville; Bianca Peixoto, University of Rhode Island; Julia Gillespie, Virginia Tech; Nancy Kammerer, Penn State; and Brian Maule, Northern Illinois University.
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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