The Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences was well-represented at the Third International Soil Judging Contest in Seropédica near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug. 11. Sponsored by the International Union of Soil Science, the contest drew 48 students on 12 teams from 10 countries: United States, Brazil, Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, Great Britain, South Africa, Spain, and Russia.

“The contest was the ultimate example of international goodwill and cooperation,” said U.S. team 2 coach John Galbraith, a professor in the college’s School of Plant and Environmental Sciences. “The teams and coaches were there to learn about soils and get to know each other. We all share a passion about soil science. The competition was about learning as much as possible rather than being better than anyone else.”

Galbraith’s team placed at the top, earning the overall team championship, followed by U.S. team 1, coached by Andrew Sherfy, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and the Spain team, coached by Rosa Poch. 

Students from the U.S. team 2 and Great Britain practice judging soils in Seropédicia Brazil at the Third International Soil Judging Contest.

Students from the U.S. team 2 and Great Britain practice judging soils in Seropédicia Brazil at the Third International Soil Judging Contest.
Students from the U.S. team 2 and Great Britain practice judging soils in Seropédicia Brazil at the Third International Soil Judging Contest.

U.S. team 1 took top honors in the group judging event, followed by Galbraith’s team 2, and Spain.

The individual champion was Georgianna (Anna) Scott, U.S. team 2, Clemson University. She was followed by Ben Smith, U.S. team 2, Virginia Tech. Smith is a junior majoring in biological systems engineering. Braden Povah, U.S. team 2, California Polytechnic State University; David Gentry, U.S. team 2, University of Tennessee - Knoxville; a student from Russia; and a student from Spain all tied for third place.

The two U.S. teams were partially funded by the Agronomic Science Foundation, Soil Science Society of America, and the American Society of Agronomy.

“The contest was held in what was once the Atlantic rain forest, but is now dry pasture on moderately eroded hillslopes,” said Galbraith. “The soils are infertile and leached of nutrients. The students learned how to interpret and classify tropical soil properties to make land-use decisions. None of the students from the U.S. had been to Brazil or South America before, but they quickly learned the soils, hydrology, climate, and geology. They interacted well with all teams and learned how to be good ambassadors of their country and their university.”

-          Written by John Galbraith