Henley High School freshman Ryan Orr put some soil on his palm and closed his hand around it, determining its texture. Was is loamy sand? Clay? What else could he determine by examining it?
Quite a bit, actually. Orr and about 60 other FFA students from four high schools – Henley, Lost River, Bonanza, and Prospect – gathered Wednesday (Sept. 25) on fallowed alfalfa fields at Mockridge Farms near Bonanza to compete in the annual Bonanza FFA Soils Invitational, a practice contest held a week before the Southern Oregon District Soils Evaluation CDE scheduled for Oct. 2 in Lakeview.
Tyler Mockridge of Mockridge Farms each year volunteers the use of the farm’s fields for the annual contest. The students gathered soil samples from four levels of three different 3-to 4-foot-deep narrow pits. Each student analyzed and evaluated their samples, answering questions ranging from how much water the soils could hold to their crop suitability.
It was Orr’s first time competing in soils evaluation. “I did it so I could try something new,” he said. “It’s fun. I’m learning how to be able to tell if you can grow crops and what crops can grow best.”
Organizer Anna Aylett, Bonanza Junior-Senior High School’s FFA advisor, and ag science teacher said the students are taught how to evaluate soils in their agriculture classes. The FFA contest allows them to put that knowledge to use and realize its real-world applications in land management decisions. “Soil is important because it’s literally the foundation of life,” she said. “We use it to grow our food. We grow food for our animals in it. It filters our water. It provides an anchor for plants. It serves as our water storage. … It’s incredibly important that we understand how it works, how we can take care of it and make sure we’re keeping our soil healthy and usable for future generations.”
The students spend 40 minutes at each of the three pits, judging the soil and recording its properties. They then are asked to evaluate site characteristics and determine which types of crops should be planted for the best yield.
In the days before the event, soil scientists from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service judged the soil in the pits and provided their answers for comparison to student answers for the contest.
Dylan Reid, a senior at Lost River Junior-Senior High School, has competed in soils evaluation for the past three years. “If you’re interested in agriculture, it’s good to know what crops you can put in the soil that will grow best,” he said.
Madalyn Cory, a sophomore at Bonanza, agreed. This is her third year in FFA, but her first competing in soils evaluation. “I want to learn more so I can recognize what soil is best for what crops,” she said.
For more information, contact:
Marcia Schlottmann, public relations, Klamath County School District 541-851-8743; firstname.lastname@example.org