Over 150 students from Florida schools gathered at Rafter T Ranch in Sebring, Florida Sunday. The students, made up of 34 groups ranging from the Future Farmers of America (FFA) to local 4-H groups, were brought together by the Highlands Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation District for the 55th annual Florida State Land Judging Contest. Using a variety of techniques, the students were charged with studying the composition of soil and any potential issues in a selection of water sources. In the end, Kathland High School and Manatee Middle School proved they were the lead soil examiners this year.
Part of the State’s Conservation Mission
While some may hear of a land judging contest and think that nothing could be more boring or trivial, Florida’s contest is among a plethora of similar contests held throughout the year across the United States. The goal? Teaching young people how to take care of the soil and better farm it in the years to come.It’s an undoubtedly worthy goal, especially considering the ongoing degradation of topsoil and arable land throughout the world. According to the University of Michigan, in the 30-year gap between 1961 and 1991, the amount of high-quality, non-degraded topsoil available for agricultural purposes dropped between 20 and 30%. As the world’s population continues to grow and food becomes an increasingly hot commodity, the speed of soil degradation is continuing to quicken. As of the early 1990’s, around 80% of topsoil remained in good condition. However, if more recent figures from the University of Sydney are to be believed, an astounding 70% of topsoil has been completely stripped of its ability to nurture any plant life.
“The application of a fertilizer, whether it’s a granular fertilizer product, or an organic product like compost, is key,” explains Don Saunders, President of Saunders Landscape Supply. “Both of these products will enhance quality of the soil and prevent any further degradation from occurring.”
Cauterizing the Wound
At present, topsoil is being degraded at 10 to 40 times the speed at which natural processes can replenish it. As industrialized farming continues at full speed, that rate is only set to pick up, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Programs and contests like Florida’s Land Judging Contest aim to get American children excited about farming, while giving them the tools they need to better care for the soil. In doing so, degradation can be slowed and, if we’re lucky, the Earth will have time to recuperate.