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University of Maryland Students Win National Soil Judging Championship

May 4, 2017

Graham Binder, 301-405-9235

COLLEGE PARK, MD. -- A student team from the University of Maryland's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources took first place in the recent 57th National Soils Competition, where contestants from 24 universities from seven regions around the country inspected various soil pits and worked to correctly identify, evaluate and describe five soil profiles. 

Photo of soil judging competitionIn the competition, hosted by the Northern Illinois University, the Terps finished fourth in the group portion, followed by a dominant showing in the individual portion of the contest with all four UMD contestants finishing in the top 11 (among a field of 93). The combined individual and group scores vaulted UMD into first place overall, marking the second time in the past five years that UMD students have claimed the top spot. It is the fourth time a Terp team has won the national title in the 57 years of the contest.

Soils are the most complex and ecologically significant biogeochemical systems on Earth. Soil processes and soil as a resource are critical to all terrestrial ecosystems, from prairies to tundra, wetlands to forests, and cities to farms. Soil Science is at the center of the study of what the National Science Foundation terms the Critical Zone - the confluence of the air, land and waters that support life on Earth.

“This is a highly prestigious competition with a long, storied history, and it is a tremendous point of pride for our students, our college and the university as a whole to bring home the win,” said Martin Rabenhorst, Ph.D of UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and team coach. “These events provide outstanding educational opportunities for our students – and a chance to study soils, landscapes, geology and agriculture in areas they may never have seen. And while these trips are a lot of work, they also are a lot of fun. Many of our graduates consider soil judging the highlight of their college experiences.”

For the soil judging championship, practice and contest pits included a collection of soils that were mostly Argiudolls, Hapludalfs, Endoaquolls and Hapludolls. These were formed from a variety of parent materials including loess, till, outwash, alluvium, colluvium, residuum, and eolian sands. The following students from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources placed: Kristi Persing (first place); Philip Schwartz (fifth place); Shelley Porter (ninth place) and Daniel Smith from the A. James Clark School of Engineering (11th place). The Terp team finished ahead of Kansas State (second), University of Wisconsin Platteville (third), Purdue University (fourth) and University of Wisconsin Stephens Point (fifth).

The Terps won the 1972 National Championship in Blacksburg, VA (Coach Martin Rabenhorst as a team member) and then in 1984 in San Luis Obispo, CA (Rabenhorst Coach) and most recently in Platteville, WI in 2013 (Assoc. Professor Brian Needelman Coach). Terp Judger Chenlin Zhu began an MS program in Environmental Science and Technology within the college this semester, and five of the other team members will be graduating this May (Porter, Smith, Persing, Agee, and Kramer.)  The college hopes to have all the others back on the team this coming fall when they head to Rhode Island for the northeast regional contest.