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Soils Judging Team Take Top Honors at Regional Competition with the Help of NRCS

By Melissa Blair, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist

The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) soil science staff worked with the soils judging teams from Texas A&M Kingsville and the Hispanic Serving Institute (HSI) Multi Institution team a few days prior to their Region IV soils judging contest in Arkansas to prepare them for their contests by educating them on a variety of soils.

The HSI Multi-Institutional Soil Judging Team students won first place in the soils team pit judging competition, beating the other collegiate soil pit judging teams at the Region IV Collegiate Soils Judging Contest hosted at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville in October. Contestants from various universities were expected to correctly identify, evaluate, classify and describe three soil profiles in several soil pits.

The HSI Multi Institution soil judging team outscored teams from Texas A&M University, Oklahoma State University, Texas Tech University and Tarleton State University. The TAMUK team placed tied for third in the Team pit contest but lost the tie breaker.   

“A special thanks goes to the USDA-NRCS soil scientists, Carlos Villarreal from Temple and Sara Russell from Nacogdoches, who helped train the Multi-HSI-Institutional and TAMU-Kingsville student teams during a very wet week in soggy soil pits in Arkansas,” said Dr. Shad Nelson. “Our early dream to educate more students in Soil Science skills is paying off.” 

The Soils Judging Pit Team included Ricardo Torres from University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez (UPRM), Joshua Holguin and Karla Lopez from University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), and Emily Morgan from Florida International University (FIU). Karla, Joshua, and Emily also participated in a two-week summer training workshop in Costa Rica on soils, water and plants.

These students were part of the Student Training in Agricultural Research Techniques by Novel Educational Workshop (START NOW) USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Multi-Institutional HSI Collaborative grant program. Ricardo Torres also participated in the “Educational Tours to Puerto Rico and Texas’ as part of the Natural Resources Career Development Program (NRCDP), between NRCS, TAMUK and UPRM.

This soils competition is another collaborative professional training activity as part of the START NOW USDA-NIFA HSI grant award led by TAMU-Kingsville in collaboration with UTEP, UPRM and FIU.

“This is the third year NRCS has been involved with this project between Texas A&M Kingsville and USDA-NIFA,” said Alan Stanke, Texas NRCS State soil scientist. “Carlos and Sara met these students on a Sunday and on Thursday their team beat all of the other ag schools in the team part of the contest. We get to interact and spend a lot of time in the field with these students.”

The Regional contest involves an individual contest and a team pit contest. The top five individuals get medals and the top three team pit get medals. The Overall Sweepstakes takes the scores from the individual contest for each team and awards the top three teams. The top three from the overall sweepstakes are invited to Nationals. The HSI team won the team pit contest and received fifth in the sweepstakes. The Texas A&M Kingsville soils judging team received sixth in the sweepstakes.