WVU
Alexander Chernauskas, Seth Goodwin and Gavin Taylor practiced for nearly a year to bring home the first and second place titles in the homesite evaluation and land judging categories, respectively. Taylor also snagged the national individual championship in land judging.

There’s a long history of West Virginia University Extension Service 4-H teams that have fared well in land judging and homesite evaluation competitions. And, on May 2, three Monroe County youths continued that legacy by earning a national champion title at the National Land and Range Judging Contest held in Oklahoma.

Alexander Chernauskas, Seth Goodwin and Gavin Taylor practiced for nearly a year to bring home the first and second place titles in the homesite evaluation and land judging categories, respectively. Taylor also snagged the national individual championship in land judging.

Land judging and homesite evaluation programs educate youths about soil properties, and in West Virginia, these practices are often used when constructing buildings and homes or for farming and agricultural purposes.

But it’s more than evaluating soil textures, composition, permeability, erosion characteristics and the slope of the land — for many youths, it’s a basis in the sciences and learning to be good stewards of the earth explained the team coach and Monroe County WVU Extension Service agent, Brian Wickline.

“The point of the contest is for youths to comprehend the dynamics of the soil in front of them and give recommendations on how to manage it,” Wickline said. “Not only does it teach sound soil conservation practices and proper land management decisions, but for some, it can turn in to a lifelong interest.”

He added that the youths’ dedication is evident by learning about something that not a lot of peers take interest in. The team buckled down to prepare for the competition in January and ramped up practice to four hours a week. They also spent a week in Oklahoma practicing on-site to acclimate to the wide variety of soils they’d be asked to judge.

Goodwin credits their team’s success not only to the hours of practice and studying but also to the understanding of soil’s importance that Wickline helped them develop, and he believes his teammates would agree.

“Brian didn’t just teach us about land judging and homesite evaluation for the competition; he taught us why soil is important and why we need to evaluate it. We learned about how we need to be prepared for the task at hand. These are lessons that will stick with us forever,” Goodwin said. “And now, I understand why my dad and I took soil samples when I was younger and can put these skills to use immediately.”

The reward for all the youths’ studying was a contest that went smoothly, despite the notoriously diverse and hard to classify soils of Oklahoma. Nearly 450 participants converged from more than 30 states, some as far away as Hawaii.

For the Monroe County team, the competition ended with their names being called and a trophy presentation at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. But, sometimes the passion and dedication doesn’t stop directly after a competition or after the youth leaves 4-H.

Wickline said the impact of the youth agriculture program is significant, as he’s had a number of former 4-H’ers go on to pursue agricultural science degrees from higher education institutions with hopes of making a career out of it.

“So much of what we interact with on a daily basis is derived from the soil, but we don’t always pay enough attention to it,” Wickline added. “Several of our kids have become soil scientists, agriculturalists and some civil engineers. But even if they don’t, this program helps them develop an appreciation for the soil that will always benefit them.”

The competition was split into 4-H and FFA categories. West Virginia also did well in the FFA competition with teams consistently placing in the top 15 and Tyler County FFA placing first in the land judging category. In many instances around the state, including in Monroe County, the two programs work together to train.

To learn more about new opportunities in the 4-H program, visit extension.wvu.edu, or contact your local office of the WVU Extension Service.