Some 400 students, coaches and soil scientists will decide upon Morgan County alter this week to conduct the well-respected Indiana 4-H and FFA soil judging state contest. More than 40 FFA teams and some 15 4-H teams will vie in their respective divisions for the right to represent Indiana in the National Soil Judging Contest held near Oklahoma City in early May, 2012.
Gary Steinhardt, the Purdue University Extension soil scientist, is the long-time leader of setting up the soil judging contest in Indiana. Staff of 4-H and the Extension service assist, but Steinhardt and other soil scientists select the actual contest pits, and also choose the practice pits. All teams that will compete are invited to the area Friday this week to view 8 to 12 pits and get familiar with the soils in the area. Then the completion is for real on Saturday.
Morgan County offers a challenge to teams coming in to participate because it is a large county with diverse soils. Since it is at the edge of the Wisconsin glacier, but was touched by earlier glaciers, much of the eastern side of the county is rolling crop and hayland, with wooded land interspersed on steep hills. The western side of the county tends to level out. In the middle is the White River, a river large enough to be accompanied by flood plains and terrace or outwash soils, moving up to higher soils on the landscape, or upland soils.
Several parent materials also helped form the soils in Morgan County, from till from glaciers to wind-blown soil, or loess, to outwash near the river, often underlain with sand and gravel, to flood plains continuously disturbed over the thousands of years of soil development by natural processes of flooding and depositing soil during these events.
There are also two features not found together in many areas of the state. There are soils mapped in the county that contain fragipans, more typically found in southern Indiana. These are hard blocks of soil, formed into prism shapes, bordered by white material. Looking down on a cut-away version, they form an outline of blocks stacked next to and on top of each other. The problem is that these blocks are so hard hey can limit root activity, and sometimes limit water movement.
At the same time, there are bedrock soils marked in the county. While not terribly common, these soils developed over bedrock. The bedrock may be the parent material that started formation of the soil, and it may also be a limiting layer to roots if the deposit is thick enough and hard enough that roots can't penetrate.Needless to say, it will be a challenging contest this Saturday in Morgan County.