Photo credit: United Soybean Board, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Are you looking to purchase or rent land to start an orchard business? Do you want to plant fruit trees, vegetables, or any other type of crop on your land, but are not sure if the site will be suitable? There are many variables to consider before you plant your first tree or set your first fence post.
One of the most important things to do is to first check the soil map to ensure you are planting a crop that is appropriate for the soil and growing conditions you have. Luckily, this can easily be done with an online tool, which can be used for a variety of additional land planning tasks for your farm.
The Web Soil Survey (WSS) is operated by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and provides access to the largest natural resource information system in the world. The WSS is a web application that provides customers (producers, agencies, technical service providers, and others) electronic access to relevant soil and related information needed to make wise land use and management decisions. Users can get information on only what they want by highlighting areas on the map and collect information relevant to their land use concerns.
You can look at cropland by typing in an address and zooming into the desired fields. From there, you can use the rectangle or polygon tool to draw an outline of the fields to create an area of interest (AOI). Once an AOI is defined, you can select the "soil map" tab to view the soil types in the field, broken down by acres. Clicking the soil series name will bring up some overview information on that soil, along with geographic information like slope, elevation, frost free days, and many other variables that are useful in determining a site's suitability for different farm enterprises.
The "soil data explorer" tab will allow you to access your AOI's land classifications. These include the AOI's capability class, vegetative productivity, and farmland classification. The soil properties and qualities section on the "soil data explorer" tab allows you to view additional characteristics of the soil, including chemical and physical properties, erosion factors, and soil health information. Not sure what all of the different variables mean? There is also a section called "introduction to soils", so you can learn more about these variables, and learn how to take a soil test of your own.
The Web Soil Survey can be useful for planning many different tasks on your land. For example, in the "soil data explorer" tab you can determine how difficult setting a fence post 36 inches deep might be. Another category is "mechanical site preparation", which lists the suitability of surface tillage to the depth of one foot. Want to put a pond on your property? You can select the water management feature to determine which areas in your AOI are less likely to have seepage issues.
Lastly the "shopping cart" tab allows the user to print out a custom report for the area selected. This information can also be saved as a PDF document for referencing at a later time. This is extremely useful information for farmers as they evaluate renting or purchasing farmland, or for those who are looking to better utilize the land that they currently manage.
Visit the Web Soil Survey and highlight your farm or property of interest. You will be amazed how useful the information is to you as either a beginning farmer, or someone who has been tending the soil for years.
The Soil Map page gives you a map view of your field's soil, the percentages of the soil series you have in your field, and detailed information on those soils.