Northeast Regional Collegiate Soil Judging Contest

October 1991, Delaware Valley College

Team Members

  • Ray Shipp, coach
  • Brandon Dennis

Overall Team Standings

  1. Penn State
  2. Cornell
  3. University of Maryland
  4. Delaware Valley College
  5. University of Rhode Island

PSU soil team dusts competition

Collegian Staff Writer

When most students think of a competition, they think of a baseball game, football game, track meet, swim meet or maybe even a spelling bee. But what about a soil judging competition?

That's the type of contest that Penn State's soil judging team competes in. The team won the North East Collegiate Soil Judging Contest recently held at Delaware Valley College and will compete in the national tournament in San Francisco in the spring, said Ray Shipp, the team's coach and agronomy professor.

A unique learning experience, the competition gives students the opportunity to see different soils from different states, meet new friends and have fun, Shipp said.

The best part of the tournament is not the competition but seeing new landscapes and soils and meeting new people, said team member Brandon Dennis (senior-agricultural science), adding that some teams take it too seriously.

"It's like a reward for doing well in class," Shipp said.

Shipp teaches a soil proposition course, a hands-on course team members take that is geared to the competition.

The class teaches students how to describe field soils and also learn to recognize limitations and potentials of soil uses, such as production of crops and suitability of soil for waste disposal, Shipp said. The one-credit class, consisting of lectures and labs, lasts for five weeks.

The seven-member team qualified for nationals by finishing in the top two of the five teams at the regional competition held at the end of October, Shipp said. Penn State beat Cornell University, University of Maryland, Delaware Valley College and the University of Rhode Island (finishing in that order) to win the contest, he said. Actually, 10 teams competed -- each school entered two teams with a maximum of four people per team, he added.

In the contest, students describe the soil profile and soil features for four different pits dug in the ground, each pit large enough to hold six to 10 students, Shipp said. Descriptions are compared to an expert official judge to get a score, he added.

The contest requires a "certain amount of art and skill as well as knowledge. It's not just scientific," Shipp said.

At the regional competition, three Penn Staters received plaques by finishing in the top 10.

The team will spend a week in California to prepare for the national meet and get used to the different soils, he said.

"I think we can do really well," Dennis added. He said he's excited about the trip to California, but won't be able to see all of the attractions he wants to because the team will be getting ready for the tournament.

The national tournament, held the third week of April, is sponsored by the University of California, Shipp added.

Shipp, in his fifth year of coaching, said the team has existed since at least 1960 and has made nationals four out of his five years coaching.

The team is supported by Penn State's agronomy department, Shipp said. The American Society of Agronomy, which has affiliated student chapters at most land-grant universities, sponsors the competition. The chapters provide scheduling of the contests and money for trophies and awards, he said.

"They keep it viable and going," he said.

The regional competition, which rotates among the universities, was held at the University in 1988 and will return in 1993, Shipp said.

Source: Tuesday, November 19, 1991, The Daily Collegian