University of Illinois takes first in team judging at national soil judging competition

Five people work in a large trench, examining the soil layers. They are wearing casual outdoor clothing and hats. Trees and grass are in the background.
The Illinois Soil Judging Team evaluates soil profile

This April, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign students were among 25 teams participating in the National Collegiate Soil Judging Contest hosted by Iowa State University near Ames, Iowa. The Illinois team earned first place in the team-judging category and 13th in the competition overall. The team was led by Liz Miernicki and assistant coach Scott Wiesbrook, both soil scientists at the Illinois Natural History Survey, part of the Prairie Research Institute.

The soil judging course is offered by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at Illinois. In the course, students learn to describe, interpret, and classify soil profiles based on varying soil properties and landscape features. Recognizing these properties allows students to evaluate potential limitations relative to homes with basements, traditional septic system absorption fields, and local infrastructure. The course, which attracts students in environmental sciences and crop sciences alike, is offered every fall semester and in the spring if students qualify at the fall regional contest.

At Iowa State, students spent four days visiting practice soil pits where they classified and interpreted soil properties. The pits represented multiple types of Alfisols (soils formed under forest vegetation) and Mollisols (soils formed under grassland vegetation), the most common soils in east central Illinois. The competition, which took place on the final day, saw students competing individually and in teams.

“Honestly, the win was a pleasant shock to us all. It felt like a true ‘pressure makes diamonds’ moment,” Miernicki said. “We’re so proud of everyone’s hard work and dedication.”

Interested in donating to fund the Illinois Soil Judging Team’s future trips? Email Liz Miernicki at

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