UMD Sends Soil Science Contingent To Korea for International Convention and Competition

Dr. Bruce James will give a presentation while undergraduate student Tyler Witkowski competes in soil judging.

The U.S. soil judging team poses in Jeju, Korea. ENST student Tyler Witkowski is in the middle of the back row.

June 6, 2014

A contingent from the Department of Environmental Science and Technology are representing the University of Maryland in Jeju, Korea this week for the 20th World Congress of Soil Science (WCSS) and the first ever International Soil Judging Contest.  The International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) together with the Korean Society of Soil Science and Fertilizer (KSSSF), are hosting the world’s foremost soil scientists to discuss challenges and developments in soil science.

This important, weeklong quadrennial symposium will include topics, such as soil in space and time, soil for peace, and soil use and management. Eminent soil scientists from around the world are attending. Dr. Bruce James, ENST soil science professor and director of the Environmental Science and Policy program, is among the delegates who are presenting research. His presentation titled “Cultural Perspectives on Soils and Science” will cover the history, philosophy, sociology and artistic aspects of soil science. Joining him at the conference is Kristin Fisher, James’ graduate student. Her research focuses on nitrogen cycling and water quality in agro-ecosystems. 

At the very beginning of the congress, for the first time, the IUSS and the KSSSF are hosting an international soil judging competition, similar to the competition held annually in the U.S., which is hosted by the Soil Science Society of America.  Tyler Witkowski, UMD Terrapin soil judger and ENST alumnus, is one of the eight students representing the U.S. in this competition.  Other teams participating in this year’s competition include groups from Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, South Africa, Mexico, and Europe.  

Soil judging is a hands-on, field application of what students have learned in the classroom, to real-world situations. Contestants will spend two days learning about the soils and examining practice sites on Jeju Island, Korea, on June 5 and 6, before participating in the competition on June 7. At each site, they will spend approximately an hour in a pit describing the layers, technically called horizons, of the soil, classifying the soil, and evaluating its properties and suitability for a variety of uses including water transmission, the geological history of the site, potential for agriculture and other characteristics. Due to distinct characteristics in the soil, Jeju Island is a major producer of tangerines that have thin rinds and high surgar contents. 

U.S. participants were selected based on their performance at the National Collegiate Soil Judging Competition last April. At that event, the Soil Judging Terrapins took first place in the group judging portion and third place overall. Witkowski’s showing in April qualified him to go on to the international competition. “This has been a great season for the Soil Judging Terps,” said Head Coach Dr. Martin Rabenhorst. “This now is an exciting opportunity for Tyler and it’s an honor for the Terps to be represented in Korea.” Rabenhorst has been leading the Soil Judging Terps since 1983 and has seven top-four finishes nationally.