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Witkowski second in international soil judging contest
By JONATHAN CRIBBS
(June 24, 2014) If Tyler Witkowski was named the world’s second-best soccer player last week or the world’s second-best gambler or even the world’s second-best plastics producer, he’d probably have a clearer idea of what it meant for him as a professional.
Instead, Wikowski was named the world’s second-best soil judge out of 45 contestants last week, and he’s still figuring it out.
“It’s a great honor,” the 29-year-old resource conservationist and Port Deposit, Md., resident said. “I don’t really know what that means for me. Maybe I can land somewhere where I can use my tools and knowledge so I can benefit people.”
Witkowski won the silver award in the individual competition in the first ever International Soil Judging Competition held in Jeju Island, South Korea, from June 5-7.
In the event, contestants inspect and break down soil layers, called horizons, to determine their color, shape, patterns, history, origin and agricultural potential, building potential and more.
“We describe all that and then we use that description to determine the suitability of the soil for things such as septic tanks and crops,” Witkowski said.
He’s a December graduate of the University of Maryland where he earned a degree in soil and watershed sciences after an initial interest in mechanical engineering didn’t work out.
“It’s a little strange. I grew up in Cecil County, and we have a lot of agriculture here, but I didn’t grow up on a farm or anything,” Witkowski said. “I just started taking classes. … I just found it fascinating. It was just a whole new experience for me. It felt like it fit me. Soil is a mystery, and I just like that puzzle feel. … You start to unravel the story of the soil itself.”
In South Korea, the soil was a little different than what he typically works with in Cecil County.
It’s infused with a mix of volcanic ash and ejecta from eruptions about 25,000 years ago, according to a statement from the university’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources.
The soil allows for high water infiltration and permeability, ideal for growing tangerines.
Though he was a part of the university’s historically competitive soil judging team as a student, Witkowski joined forces with soil enthusiasts from across the nation — including Virginia Tech — for the international competition.
He also helped his team, USA-B, take the event’s grand prize and the group portion of the judging as well.
For now, Witkowski works with the Cecil Soil Conservation District where he said he enjoys helping builders and farmers.
He said he recently helped a new organic farmer in Rising Sun who’d started growing vegetables, including kale and tomatoes last year.
She’d watched a portion of her crop inexplicably die.
Months later, Witkowski said he surveyed the bare field, inspecting the soil and noticed gray material in the soil in part of the field, indicating the water table.
He drew a line across the field showing where the water table was rose closer to the surface, and when the farmer looked at the line, it neatly separated her crops that survived from the smaller section that died.
The two decided she’d need to plant crops that thrived in wetter conditions in that section.
“She was happy I came out and looked at it,” Witkowski said.
The Soil Science Society of America in Madison, Wis., sent the American team to compete in South Korea.