National competition dishes up WA dirt

September 2, 2015

A soil judging pit in Jeju, Korea, in early 2015. Pic by Richard DoyleWA’s unique and sandy landscape will provide a challenging environment for the National Student Soil Judging Competition this weekend.

Students from around Australia will gather at Murdoch University’s Whitby Falls Farm to compete for supremacy in their knowledge of Australian landscape and soil description competency in the International Year of Soil.

The students will also be assessed on their ability to identify the agronomic or industrial fit for each soil.

“This event is a great opportunity for a range of undergraduate university students studying soils in their respective courses, to learn and build their knowledge and understanding about the diversity of Australian soils and how different soils function under different landscapes and climates,” said Professor Richard Bell from Murdoch University.

“This is WA’s first student soil judging competition and Whitby Falls Farm’s location will enable competitors to characterise a range of soil types as the edge of the Darling Scarp transitions to the Perth Basin.”

The students will work in teams with a mentor, traveling to the competition site a day ahead of time to get to know the region's soil characteristics.

On the competition day, students spend up to an hour in one or more soil pits, excavated to a depth of about 1.5 metres.

The students first need to identify the different layers or horizons — and describe their various characteristics: colour, texture, structure or wetness features.

They also have to describe the geology of the site, how the soil formed over geological history, and what the agronomic or industrial capability could be for each soil.

Professor Bell said that an ability to describe soils and determine their limiting characteristics is important for many professionals who work in fields such as agriculture, crop and pasture science and environmental science.

Teams from Murdoch University, the University of WA and Curtin University will face off against competitors from Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

The competition is part of the 2015 WA Soils Conference which will be held 7-9 September.

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