Soil Science Students Get Hands-On Experience at Oppenheimer Research Centre
A group of UKZN second year Soil Science students enjoyed practical experience and got their hands dirty during a field trip at Umgenipoort in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, the research facility made available to the University through the generosity of the Oppenheimer family.
The 230 Soil students learned about the practical side of pedology, the science of soil formation and classification, after the Oppenheimer Family Trust invited the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science to make use of the facilities and scientific research opportunities on the farm Umgenipoort, and its neighbouring property, Wakefield.
Mr Kyle Reddy, who plans to major in Soil Science and hydrology, was among 53 students on the excursion. He explained what a soil mapping survey entailed. ‘We were broken into groups and each given our own area with boundaries to map,’ said Reddy.
‘We had to collect soil samples using a metal augur to determine the different types of soil in the area. We then drew a soil map and explained the different types of soils in a report. For example, Katspruit is soil that is found near river boundaries. We also identified Mispah soil.’
Reddy said the students also measured the depth of the soil in relation to the gradient as well as drainage and infiltration capacity. In their final report, they had to use their results to recommend potential land usage for the identified soil types, for example, crops, pasture or natural grazing.
A further task for the students was to capture GPS locations to ensure precise soil mapping.
Course Co-ordinator, Ms Nkosinomusa Buthelezi, said the three-day field trip contributed significantly to the Soil 230 semester mark. She said it had been particularly beneficial for the students to be at Umgenipoort as the soils there differed to those found in Pietermaritzburg. ‘The area has deep, wet soils. It is interesting for the students because they haven’t seen these types of soils before. Now they are able to compare theory to practical examples.’
Buthelezi said being in the field helped students get an understanding about the landscape and how soils differ.
Each group of students was given 49ha to map, looking at the texture, colour, structure and consistency of the soils.
The field trip would be followed by further soil sample analysis in the labs with students later writing up soil profile descriptions.