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Local college’s soil examined in national competition

Mar 31, 2014

2013 Delaware Valley College soil judging team competes

Students compete in the Collegiate Soil Judging Competition. This year, more than 100 students from 19 colleges and universities are competing in the national contest at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pa.

They look like they’re digging graves, but the students in the 2014 National Collegiate Soil Judging Competition are actually doing timed tests to classify soil. More than 100 students from 19 universities and colleges from across the country are competing in a soil judging competition March 30- April 7 at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pa. The competition runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day and is open to media and competitors only.

The teams take a scientific look at Bucks County’s soil. Students go into pits about four feet deep by ten feet wide to gather the data. It's a timed event with specific times they can be in the pits.

“Competing offers students from around the country a chance to look at and understand soils specific to our area,” said Mike Sowers ’93, a DelVal alumnus who is now soil judging team coach and an adjunct faculty member. “They learn about geology specific to our area, and how soils impact our communities and lifestyles.”

The students are asked to describe different layers within the soil and interpret uses for specific soils. They describe indications of rocks, textures and specific characteristics that would make the soil good for specific uses such as construction and agriculture. They also record and describe the suitability and limitations for each soil for specific uses. Students aren’t the only ones learning though.

“The competition really serves to raise awareness and inform the public about the impact that soils have had on our country and on our world economy,” said Sowers. “Good soil quality is essential for agriculture, impacts construction and many key areas, which have built our country and economy.”

Sowers has been coaching the competition since 2008. In 2011, DelVal’s team took first nationally in the group judging part of the competition. The College also won regional championships in 2008 and 2011.

DelVal cannot compete in the competition because the host school is not allowed to. The College’s Soil Judging Team helped with getting soil pits ready, and is showcasing Bucks County’s soils to the rest of the country and volunteering and assisting with the competition. The team has five members who are all agronomy or environmental science majors.

Students get hands-on experience for graduate school and careers. Alumni go on to work in government jobs, at research institutions, at large agriculture companies, and as soil scientists. Students have found work with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.