Soil Surveys

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Agriculture Topics

One of the tasks of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is to conduct soil surveys and then make the data from those surveys available.  This is done by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), which is a division of USDA.
I don’t know the complete history of soil surveys, but they have been conducted for many years – I would guess more than 80 years.  Through most of this time, soil surveys have been published in manual or book type form that can be distributed.
In case you are wondering what a soil survey is, it is essentially a tool for use in land use planning.  It contains predictions of soil behavior for selected land uses and highlights limitations and hazards inherent in the soil.  It also points to improvements needed to overcome the limitations and the impact of selected land uses on the environment.  
Great differences in soil properties can occur within short distances.  Some soils are seasonally wet or subject to flooding.  Some are shallow to bedrock.  Some are too unstable to be used as a foundation for buildings or roads.  Some are poorly suited to use as septic tank absorption fields.  A high water table makes a soil poorly suited to basements.  
These are just a few of the things that can be learned from a soil survey.  The surveys include an aerial photo map of the area being surveyed, which allows you to find your property, or property you may be interested in.
Lewis County has had a number of soil surveys conducted over the years, the most recent being the one that was published in 1995.  
The problem the government has had with soil surveys is the cost of publishing and storing all of these documents.  They have many soil surveys from over the years in storage.
This being the information age, the government decide to do something about all of these published soil surveys and I think they got this done right.
What they have done is to make the soil surveys from the entire country available online.  Don’t think of it as just a copy of the paper on your computer screen.  It has computer tools that make it much more useable than the paper copy.
If you have a decent internet connection and have the interest, go to http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov.  There is a lot of information on the opening screen, but to get started, just click on the green start button.  From there, you can probably figure it out if you are familiar with general software operation.  
If you need a few tips to get started, give me a call or stop in and I can help.  You have the ability from this site to print maps of your property, check acreages, distances, plus access to all of the land capability data that is part of the soil survey.
It is a very valuable tool for farmers and I encourage you to check it out.

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