Four students from East Union High School will be heading to Oklahoma in May after qualifying for Nationals in soil evaluation at the state competition in Des Moines.
Brody Granfield, Brayden Martinez, Kanyon Huntington and Sidney McFee were the group of four students led by agronomy teacher Mike Cooley.
The competition is an in-depth evaluation of each student’s knowledge of soil evaluation, including surface and soil features.
Students are judged in five different areas of soil evaluation: four soils pits and a written exam.
Each soil pit judged by students is divided into five sections: the profile, land capability classification, productivity potential, evaluation of management practices and sustainability of soils for non-agricultural uses.
“They have to determine the horizon, E-horizon is going to be on land that was originally forest,” said Cooley. “Then they have to tell what the soil depth is. ... They have to be able to tell the drainage, erosion class, top soil lost over thousands of years, acid test for calcareous.”
Once students are done with testing, they have to classify each soil pit.
“Class 1 is the best, that’s what we can farm,” said Cooley. “Class 8 is the worst, best to seed it down, best for trees to just hold soil down.”
Competitors are also forced to decide on conservation practices if they determine the soil is farming-worthy.
Students also have to look at if a non-agricultural use can be taken with the area.
“Is it suitable for basements? Can you build a house on this land?” said Cooley. “Then they look to see if it is suitable for a septic tank, for drainage. And the last thing they do – is it a suitable place to gather top soil, is there a water table?”
Cooley admits he thinks the competition is one of the toughest out there.
East Union took home first place honors on both the written evaluation and the soil pit judging. This was the first time in school history that a team has qualified for nationals.
Huntington and Martinez tied for the top score on the written test. As individuals Huntington finished second overall, Martinez finished 12th, McFee finished 13th and Granfield finished 17th out of 114 competitors.
“Bless their hearts, instead of just qualifying, we won the whole thing,” said Cooley.
Each team at the competition is only allowed to have four students compete, but has the option of changing out up to two members if necessary.
The top 30 teams were at the state competition, five from each of the six districts. Teams must first qualify at the district level before advancing to the state competition.
The National Land Judging Event in Oklahoma will run from May 1 through May 4.
“They did a tremendous job,” said Cooley. “What I told them was until some other group wins state and places higher at nationals, they can take claim to being the best group I’ve ever had.”