Feeling Is Believing!

Students in ag business class change their mind after examining actual soils.

Published on: Nov 30, 2012

Susan Brocksmith is an educator. She is also in charge of ag business programs at Vincennes University. The farm wife teaches ag business to 35 students this fall.

Recently, the lesson was what to do about tillage if you returned to the farm of if someday you advised other farmers as the representative of a retail ag dealership, or as a consultant. Not everyone in the class is from a farm, but a good number of the students have farm backgrounds.

Her first step was to get their perceptions on no-till vs. conventional tillage. She also put it to a vote. How many preferred no-till or conventional tillage? The vote came out 35 for no-till, and 10 for conventional tillage. "Based on the comments I saw, they may have been trying to butter up the teacher when they voted," Brocksmith chuckles. "They know my husband no-tills."

Different properties: No-till absorbs water and stays together when dropped into a cylinder of water. Conventional soil without structure cant take in water, but falls apart.
Different properties: No-till absorbs water and stays together when dropped into a cylinder of water. Conventional soil without structure can't take in water, but falls apart.

Then came the moment of truth. She brought in samples of topsoil from a 20-year no-till field and a field conventionally tilled for at least 20 years. She placed the soils on a table. Before each student went into the area where the soil samples were waiting, they were blindfolded.

After this test, the class voted again. This time, 34 out of 35 said they would prefer no-till, based upon what they learned from feeling the soils.

She got comments for the no-till soil, checked while blindfolded, that included: 'finer,' better,' more ground up,' less compacted, 'more compacted,' and 'has more clay.' For the conventional soil, comments ranged from: 'more compacted, 'clumped up, 'clay and 'feels dry.'  Four students thought it was the no-till soil.

Most of the students were believers after the blind-folded test feeling the two types of top soil, Brocksmith says. Many expressed surprise at what they found, and when they discovered which soil was no-till and which was conventional, it didn't always match up with their perceptions.

That was the whole point of the exercise, Brocksmith concludes.