Soil Judging- Judging The Wanted Dirt

Oct 17, 2019

Credit Nicepik

As a way of helping to identify the difference between unwanted dirt and valuable soil, soil science students hold soil judging contests.  The most recent soil judging contest happened in Northern Utah.

“We went to California, and it was on three different fault lines.”

This is Miles Coker.  He studies environmental soil science at Utah State University and is a member of a soil judging team.  Yes, there are teams that judge soil. And, to be competitive, Miles has to be able to identify the difference between soils here in Utah, and those, for example, in California.

“Their soil looks like Oreos, ours does not look like an Oreo. Like it was black white black. Ours is just grey, or white, or brown," said Coker. 

Soil profiles differ depending on where you are. Coker grew up in Colorado, but has become very familiar with the history of the local soil.

“Cache Valley is super unique because 21 thousand years ago we were under water with Lake Bonneville. So there are a lot of different parent materials, the land was under a lot of change," said Miles.  "The school is on a landform that’s 300 feet underwater like 17 thousand years ago. If you dig into the soil you see that. You see a bunch of redox and a bunch of color changes. It’s pretty unique.” 

Teams from different states spent the day analyzing soil profiles. The goal: classify soil into proper land use, and be able to explain to the judge where the materials came from, how old the different colored layers are, and how the soil has changed over time.

Coker says as a soil science student, he is always being asked to describe the difference between soil and dirt.

“Dirt is something that is unwanted, so like soil on you shoes in your house, that’s dirt. Soil is a useful thing that can be turned into dirt”

By placing third in the regional competition, USU has qualified to sample and identify soils at the upcoming national soil judging event.  Coker placed sixth overall.