Globally qualified to get dirty

19th June 2014

20th World Congress of Soil Science: First International Soil Judging Competition, Jeju, South Korea 

I must admit when I was offered the opportunity to go to Korea as part of the European team for the “First International Soil Judging Competition” I was no way on earth saying no! Definitely up for that! Miss Enthusiasm right here!

I then realised I had no idea what a soil competition actually was. And if you mentioned you were doing it to anyone, they looked at you like you were some sort of soil amoeba, totally deranged.

Never the less I travelled the many miles to Jeju, and met up with my new team mates: Ádám Csorba (Hungary), Philip Hughes (Australia) and our coach Endre Dobos (Hungary) to form team “Hunglish”. I felt like it was the day before Christmas Eve and I hadn’t bought any presents. I knew it would be a few days of intense learning (or manic shopping) but I was spurred on by the excitement of competition day (or Christmas day)!

The first two days were an opportunity to practice our soil identifying skills, and for me and Philip to actually get to grips with the WRB. Philip being used to the Ozzy system and me having little experience actually using it in practice!

We looked at four different profiles each day across the island. Endre was fantastic at coaching us to identify different soil forming processes, colour, texture and more. The soils were like nothing I had ever seen before! Dark rich volcanic soils on the steady slopes, to bright silty clay soils on the agricultural plains. I had never previously referred to a soil as beautiful, but you just couldn’t help yourself looking at these soils! Perhaps this has been a turning point for me in becoming a true soil nerd.

Those two days were such fun, I learnt so much in such a short space of time. We laughed constantly and I expanded my soil vocabulary to include a few Hungarian words!

On competition day, we had two soil pits to identify individually on two different garlic fields and then another two pits to identify as a team on the slopes on Mt Hallsan National Park. Your individual points were added together with the team points to gain our overall score, the team with the most points wins. Simple enough. The only thing was this required calibrating yourself to the judges, for example feeling the clay content to the nearest percent. The Americans took it so seriously they were soil texturing deep into the night, but then these guys were national champions and were not to be messed with when you got into those pits!

At the end of it, Hunglish came out with a certificate of excellence, but also an experience of a lifetime and indeed new friendships which I anticipate will last long into my career as a soil scientist.

From this I have also realised how important such competitions are in creating the new generation of soil scientists. It enables you to put into practice what you learn in the classroom, bouncing off not only your team mates and coach but other teams. You therefore expand your knowledge quickly, and utilise it to embrace the competition. So watch this space, next year we may be reporting on the first UK soil judging contest!

Kirsty Ross, Student Member, Lancaster University