FFA students demonstrate their knowledge of soils in state competition

By GEOFF PARKS

For the Capital Press

Thirty-four teams of four FFA students each from across the state recently took part in the Oregon FFA State Soils Contest.

Oregon high schools as far-flung as North Lake High School in Christmas Valley, Sutherlin High School, Bonanza High School, Henley High School of Klamath Falls, Hermiston High School and others took part in the morning-long competition at Norbert Hartmann's 300-acre farm west of Monmouth on Nov. 7.

"Kids learn how to judge soils based on their projects with the soil and water conservation districts and the FFA," Lee Letsch of the Oregon FFA Association said of the event.

"The coolest part of this is judging each soil site and seeing how different they are, even though all of the sites are within a quarter-mile of each other," said Tim Ray, Dallas FFA adviser. He explained that soils can have colors ranging from dark brown to reddish to gray, which indicates its composition and manner of buildup.

"Darker colors are usually more fertile soils, reddish soils are usually forest soils and gray indicates a waterlogged soil," he said. "What soil judging teaches is soil management, the practical applications of what these kids learn in high school."

Armed with Interpretation Guides for Oregon Soil Judging, the students stepped into a 6-foot-deep gouge in the earth just below an Oregon white oak savannah that Hartmann is creating on his land. They each checked the exposed soil for permeability, "stoniness/rockiness," spotted or smeared soil colors and other soil characteristics of the contest's "practice site."

Their findings were then checked based on completed scorecards from three Natural Resources Conservation Service soil scientists to "calibrate" the students' observational skills, said one of the judges, Cory Owens, an NRCS field scientist from Tangent.

The other judges were Owens' soil-scientist colleagues in Salem, Dave Johnson and Brandi Baird.

After calibration by the judges, the students moved on to three other test horizons spaced around Hartmann's diverse acreage and filled out observational scorecards for each. Their cards then were scored by the three judges and given a grand total.

Freshman Raven Waldron of North Lake High School and Christmas Valley's "B" team scored the most points on her three-horizon scorecard and was judged the individual winner of the contest.

North Lake's "A" team took top spot in the team competition, as second-place individual winner Daniel Miles and his colleagues on the team -- Avery Overton (third individual), Joe Carlon (sixth individual) and Cody Worthington (eighth individual) -- overwhelmed the other schools.

"This is the first year that the overall winner of the contest was given a prize," said Sue Reams, a soil conservationist with the Salem NRCS service center. "(Waldron) was offered a summer internship position with the NRCS."

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