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“Classification is a science and an art.” That’s how Ron McNeil assessed the challenge he faced as he volunteered to classify all 110 soil monoliths in Lethbridge College’s newly-acquired collection.
“There are rules in the classification process, but then there’s latitude in how those rules are applied, so that’s the art,” says McNeil, President of LandWise, Inc. He cautions that no classification is perfect, but with more than 30 years of experience mapping and characterizing soils across Western Canada, including in all the areas represented in the monolith collection, he brings a unique expertise to the job.
McNeil donated his time to categorize each monolith based on its distinguishing soil characteristics. The collection, donated to the college by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada features samples taken from across western Canada, and was most likely collected and classified in the 1950s and 1960s. “I was trying to go through and bring the classifications up to date,” he says, pointing out that the classification system has been occasionally updated since the samples were originally gathered. His career began at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Lethbridge Research and Development Centre, where the collection was previously located. That connection inspired him to become involved once it was transferred to the college. “I'm one of the only pedologists in Lethbridge and I thought it's natural for me to give back.”
McNeil also helped to identify which samples will have the most value in a classroom setting, and worked closely with faculty members Edith Olson, Monica Batista Benke and Shane Porter to discuss the classification process and pass along some of what he’s learned in his career.
“My offering is just a step towards building what everyone feels confident with. There will be things in what I've provided that need further discussion so, I’ll probably come back in at times to help,” says McNeil. It’s a partnership that’s helping the college fully capitalize on this one-of-a-kind resource.