The Decatur County 4-H Land Judging team has returned home after participating in the 61st annual National Land and Range Judging Contest in Oklahoma City, May 1-3, 2012. The group competed in the nation’s top land judging event at a site near Oklahoma City. Decatur County 4-H qualified for the national event by placing first in the Georgia state contest. Decatur County 4-H members Josiah Austinson, Levi Adkins and Stennes Austinson tested their individual and team skills against other land and range judging teams from approximately 38 states across the nation by evaluating land characteristics like topsoil, subsoil, slope, and plant life.
Left to right: Josiah Austinson, Stennes Austinson and Levi Adkins
They were also required to recommend treatment to improve the land’s adaptability for certain purposes like producing crops, raising cattle or building homes. According to Joe Parker, president of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, the total registration for the event exceeded 1,000 with coaches, sponsors, officials and group leaders, in addition to the contestants.
Parker noted the idea of a land judging contest was invented by three Oklahoma conservationists in 1943. They decided which soil qualities could be judged and developed score cards to test skills. The idea caught on and Oklahoma has been hosting the national contest since 1952. Oklahoma City serves as headquarters for registration and other activities, with the actual contest held somewhere near the metro area.
The first two days of the three-day event offer contestants opportunities to visit nearby practice sites to become acquainted with Oklahoma soils with information available from soil experts. The actual contest site remains a secret until contest day, so no one has an unfair advantage. Contestants and coaches gather on the contest morning to find out the official contest location. They then travel to the site, with a police escort, in a caravan of over 100 vehicles spanning several miles.
“The contestants take turns examining the soil in the pits and trenches dug especially for the contest,” Parker said. He stated that the skills the teens test at the competition involve principles that can be valuable in career fields like environmental and agricultural management, natural resource conservation, home building and construction. Decatur County 4-H’er Stennes Austinson observed, “The four sites that we judged for the contest were pretty typical of Oklahoma pasture land. The subsoil texture was generally moderately fine with a medium surface texture. Variances in slope at each area made the difference in the land capability classes.”
The event ended Thursday evening with an awards banquet in the Great Hall of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum when the day’s freshly tabulated results were announced. Kendall Brashears, executive director of the Oklahoma FFA Foundation, emceed the awards program. National championship trophies were awarded to team and individual winners in each category of competition including land judging, range judging and home site evaluation. Each category included FFA and 4-H. The Decatur County 4-H team received the 8th place team award and Levi Adkins was honored with a medal for having the 8th highest individual score.
According to Decatur County 4-H’er Levi Adkins, “The majority of Oklahoma soil that I observed has a much finer texture than our coarse South Georgia soil. This makes the permeability slower, so water doesn't drain away as quickly as it does in my garden.”