Soil Judging Melbourne Victoria

The second Australian Soil Judging Competition was held in Melbourne on the weekend preceding the National Soil Conference. Teams of four students travelled from Adelaide, Brisbane, Toowoomba and Sydney, and there were two local teams from the University of Melbourne. Despite the extensive travel, there were 43 keen competitors ready for an early start on the Saturday morning.

While the conference venue was the MCG very close to the centre of Melbourne, the judging contingent comprising the teams and coaches, and also importantly the organisers, had to travel farther afield, a consequence of Melbourne’s urban sprawl. The first day was scheduled for a practice and ‘calibration’ to the local conditions at the NMIT campus at Yan Yean, about one hour north of the CBD. The Sunday was reserved for the competition to be held at an undisclosed location. The weather was exceptionally kind, if not a bit warm for field work and slabs of bottled water were supplied to keep everyone hydrated. Fortunately the only First Aid required for the weekend was the administration of Band-Aids for student’s bleeding knuckles!

After a short coaches meeting, a ‘classroom’ session outlined the activities for the day and more importantly outlined the geomorphological setting for the region. Teams were bussed out to the seven soil pits on a range of parent materials and different topography. The ‘hills’ comprise mostly of Silurian-aged sandstone and shale deposits (shallow Sodosols), which then graded into the lower slopes of colluvial material (deeper Sodosols) and then variously aged alluvial-derived flats. Soils on older alluvium with well-structured heavy clay subsoils were classified as Grey Sodosol. In contrast, an area of more recent alluvium with weak pedogenesis posed a challenge to define the horizons was classified as a Tenosol. Additionally, the western edge of the property abuts the quaternary basalt flows, giving rise to a Black Vertosol.

The experience with soil description varied between the teams and therefore the coaches used the practice time at each pit to ‘drill’ the students to enable optimum use of the allocated time during the ‘real’ competition. Importantly, most students were able to hone their observational and practical skills necessary for describing a soil profile in-situ.

While the Yan Yean site was not too extensive, a deep culvert provided a major obstacle for the bus, and this hindered transport of the groups to the far end of the farm. At the end of the day all groups had practice on at least three pits. A final debrief at the conclusion of the day allowed clarification of the judging criteria for site description and land capability. Then it was back to Melbourne for some well-earned rest for the night.

The competition on the Sunday was based in two locations. Team judging was held at a DEPI site at Atwood, which is just east, and under the flight path, of Melbourne Airport. Two profiles presented a reasonable challenge for most teams, with most correctly describing the horizons, boundaries and textures of these Sodosols on granite colluvium. Individual judging, was based at the University of Melbourne Vet School at Werribee. This was a tough profile to describe and the conjecture extended to the experts.

Teams returned to the MCG and the judges retired to commence the most difficult part of the day namely judging the correct entries and compiling the marks. There was considerable pressure, as conference welcome drinks and dinner were on downstairs and the students were eagerly awaiting the results at the London Tavern in RIchmond. However, with lots of help from the coaches, and Mark Imhof and David Rees, we managed to declare the winners that evening.

Final section winners

First Place David Coleman, University of Sydney Blue
Second Place Michaela Dolk, University of Sydney Blue
Third Place James Diack, University of Sydney Blue
Equal First Place University of Sydney Blue
Equal First Place Team QLD (University of Southern  Queensland/Queensland University of Technology)
Second Place University of Sydney Gold
Third Place University of Melbourne Beta
Overall competition winner and runners up
First Place University of Sydney Blue
Second First Place University of Sydney Gold
Third Place Team QLD

We would like to thank the Soil Science Australia for sponsoring the teams to come to Melbourne, and for provision of transport and lunches for two days. In addition, a very large thank you to Mark Imhof and David Rees for help with selection and description of soil profiles for the practice and competition pits.


10 teams 7 universities 42 competitors

University of Melbourne
University of Sydney
University of Queensland
University of Southern Queensland/Queensland University of Technology
University of Adelaide
University of SA
University of Tasmania

Soil Science Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land and we pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future.