New Iowa soil evaluation and judging guides available

Amber Dawn Anderson
Iowa State University Extension
Lee Burras, Morrill Professor in agronomy at Iowa State University, discusses soil judging with FFA students.

AMES, Iowa – Understanding soils and factors that affect them are key to some of the biggest decisions Iowans will make. 

Farmers, gardeners, and home and business owners can all benefit by improving their knowledge of the land beneath their feet. To help with this effort, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has updated its popular “Soil Judging in Iowa” handbook and the “Iowa Soil Judging Scorecard.”

Both publications are used by youth soil judging teams, which compete in soil judging contests throughout the state. They were produced in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the FFA.

The handbook helps readers understand the properties of different soils and make good recommendations for land use. The handbook covers surface features and slope, soil features and the soil profile, land capability and productivity, evaluation of land use and management practices and suitability of soils for nonagricultural use.

Readers learn how to evaluate soil texture, drainage, soil classification, suitable farming methods and more. The scorecard is a concise document that provides space for recording both the choices made by the contestant, and the scores earned by the contestant.

“Both publications help contestants look at soil properties, and also what could be a problem or an opportunity with different soils,” Amber Anderson, assistant teaching professor in the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State and the lead author for both publications said.

Anderson is also a collegiate soil judging coach at Iowa State. She said it’s necessary to update the publications from time to time to ensure that terms and explanations are consistent with the soil industry and NRCS.

The terms are also consistent with university education, which is important for high school contestants who want to further their soil knowledge in college.

New in this year’s handbook is a focus on soil health, which Anderson said pertains to the ability of a soil to supply water and nutrients to plants when needed, especially during extreme weather events like drought or excessive precipitation.

Anderson said both publications provide useful information, regardless of whether the user is planning to go to college, return to the farm or do something else.

“Knowing more about our soils and some of the indicators of what soil can be used for is useful information,” Anderson said. “Whether the contestant is going back to the farm, off to college or on to something else, their knowledge of soils will come in handy.”

For more information, Anderson can be reached at 515-294-3287 or