Soil event grounded in real-world experience

09 December 2021 | News

Lincoln University alumni were on hand to assist current students as they dug into an invaluable practical learning experience in Waipara recently.

A group made up of both undergraduate and postgraduate students participated in Lincoln’s annual soil judging competition, which has been a part of the curriculum since 2016.

Soil judging involves accurately describing soil morphology, classifying soils and making land use interpretations to better understand and protect this crucial natural resource.

The students were charged with assessing dug-out soil pits at Greystone Vineyard to analyse the horizons of the soil, looking at colour, structure and texture as well as many other characteristics.

The competition was a practical assessment within a soil science micro-credential, and the six students are studying a range of degrees, including the Bachelor of Agriculture, the Bachelor of Science (majoring in Environmental Science), the Master of Environmental Policy and Management and the Master of Applied Science, with two working towards PhDs in Soil Science.

Senior lecturer Dr Carol Smith, who heads Lincoln’s Department of Soil and Physical Sciences, says soil judging competitions allow students to learn important skills in soil description and land use interpretation. These skills are a crucial part of sustainable land management, making them relevant across a number of different study programmes.

“They help us to understand the soil and its relationship to the land, which is incredibly important. The relevance of soil judging is recognised globally, including in North America, where it has been part of the soil science curriculum since the 1960s.  

“It’s an excellent example of experiential learning, where learning by doing offers a deeper appreciation of pedology than is possible in lectures, labs or even one-day field trips.

“It also allows students who are more hands on to gain success in this aspect of soil science, and to further nurture their academic interest in soil science.”

Dr Smith says the project reinforced pre-existing skills and knowledge for undergraduates and offered the postgraduates an opportunity to upskill in an area of soil science that might sit outside their area of research but would add to their overall soils skill set.

The project also provided meaningful partnerships, including working with industry and alumni.

Lincoln alumna Veronica Penny, who now works at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and participated in a previous soil judging competition, was Chief Judge at this year’s event and assisted with describing the soil profiles.

“It was great to see the students working in a practical environment,” she says. “We now have a number of pedologists at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research who are Lincoln alumni and took part in this competition in the past, which is a testament to the practical training opportunity this competition provides to students.

“I believe the experience also helped several students to gain roles with an environmental focus.”

Since 2016, Lincoln University has partnered with Manaaki Whenua to run the soil judging competitions.

“This year, we also used the sites for the competition as a base for a get-together with our pedologists and informatics team,” Ms Penny says.

“Two days before the students arrived, we had 19 staff come out to visit the soil pits. This was a brilliant opportunity for us to get our team together to discuss how we do things, while examining a range of different soils in the landscapes.”

Following the soil judging competition, an awards dinner was held at the Greystone Vineyard, with students reporting that their ability and confidence in soil description had increased markedly over the two days.

One described the field trip as the best they had experienced, while another said they “learnt more in the two days in Waipara than would have been possible in the classroom”.