Skip to main content

WVU soils team places seventh at regional soil judging contest

Five people in a deep, long hole in the ground.MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia University’s soil judging team placed seventh out of 11 teams at the annual Southeastern Region Collegiate Soil Judging Contest, narrowly missing eligibility to go to the national contest in 2023. 

The contest, hosted by Clemson University Oct. 17-20, saw Auburn take first place followed by Virginia Tech, Georgia, Tennessee - Knoxville, Western Kentucky and North Carolina State, respectively. These teams will go on to the National Collegiate Soils Contest, with WVU serving as the alternate. 

The WVU soils team, comprised of students studying in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, competes each semester against other universities in describing soil morphology such as color, texture and structure, determining landscape setting and land use limitations. The team has gone to nationals 14 times since Jim Thompson, professor of soil science, began coaching the team in 2005.

“The purpose of soil judging is to help students learn the basic skills and practices used by professional soil scientists describing soils for any number of land use purposes,” Thompson explained. “Students learning in a competitive setting incentivizes that learning. This is part of their effort to become better soil scientists.”

Photo of eight people outside in a group.

This year, team members included Abigail Clegg, JosiLee Scott, Alex Lawson, Abigail Clark, Michael Fiala, Emily Marstiller and Emma Jahns. They were seven of 61 students vying for top placement with Clegg and Scott tying for 14th, Lawson placing 21st and Clark placing 24th. 

The students had three days to practice at 12 pits that were approximately 5 feet deep, 4 feet wide and 20 feet long – four of which were used in the contest. On the day of the competition, the students had 50 minutes to describe and interpret the soil. Each student had to accurately describe soil color, texture and structure, as well as interpret infiltration rate, water content, run-off potential, erosion hazard and home suitability. The students’ work was scored by comparing it to that of a professional soil scientist’s results.

“Traveling to different areas can really advance a student’s knowledge of soil formation processes,” Clark said. “When you only see soils in a certain geographic area, such as West Virginia or Monongalia County, there is not a high variation. I’ve been able to see the differences in soils in Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.”

Graduating in December with a degree in environmental, soil and water sciences, Clark has competed in five college competitions: two nationals and three regionals. 

“When I graduate and become a professional soil scientist, I'll be able to think back on the profiles from soil judging competitions to help me better understand the soil in front of me and the processes that influenced it,” she said.

Woman studies paper outside.

Clark is a soil science student trainee with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, where she hopes to work full time after graduating. 

Freshman Marstiller describes herself as a hands-on learner and going to the contest helped her better understand concepts from her environmental, soil and water sciences major. Going to South Carolina allowed her see properties of soil that West Virginia soil doesn’t have. 

“Texture of South Carolina soils is very sandy,” Marstiller explained. “West Virginia has less than 10% sand, and South Carolina has less than 10% silt. That’s a very big difference!”

Though disappointed that the WVU soils team didn’t secure a spot at nationals, she and her teammates are excited to compete again.

“The team and I are extremely thankful for Dr. Thompson’s support, and the college’s support to help fund these experiences,” Clark added. “It's definitely something that will help us succeed in our future careers, while representing the University at the same time.”

Other schools that participated in the regional contest were Alabama A&M University, University of Kentucky, Middle Tennessee State University and Tuskegee University.

WVU will host the next annual Southeastern Region Collegiate Soil Judging Contest in October 2023. 

The Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design envisions a world sustainably fed, clothed and sheltered. To learn more about the Davis College, visit Keep up with the latest updates and news on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by following @WVUDavis.



CONTACT: Leah Smith

Public Relations Specialist

Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design 
Call 1-855-WVU-NEWS for the latest West Virginia University news and information from WVUToday. 

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.