Soil maps are an essential tool when it comes to land management. As knowledge about the environment grows, experts are learning that what is done in one area can have farther reaching impacts on the surrounding area. Mapping sustainable and unsustainable land for the long term is an excellent way to ensure proper planning, and the best way to move forward. Think of soil maps as a much larger version of testing the soil in your garden. Let’s deep dive into this topic and see how it can help your gardening efforts.
At the beginning of your growing season, most farmers and gardeners make the decision to test their soil. It’s important to determine whether or not you need to add fertilizer to your garden to provide your plants with the elements they need to grow strong and healthy. You don’t want to plant your garden with too much or not enough of a particular nutrient in the ground. In the long run, this practice could cause problems with your plants not performing as expected.
What Are Soil Maps?
Think about how your backyard garden is set up. You may have several different types of soil to work with around the yard. For instance, you may not use the back portion because it has heavier clay soil, while the middle of your backyard has better soil for your garden’s vegetable plants. This soil is more conducive to successful gardening without requiring any changes, unlike the clay areas. On a smaller scale, when you test your garden soil, you’re creating your own soil map.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service collects data and creates soil maps. They collect web soil survey data from throughout the country that examines the soil in detail. They then compile the web soil survey data into the soil maps. The maps will describe and classify the type of soil found in these areas. Soil-type maps can then help determine land management practices based on what dirt is located in that particular area.
How Are Soil Maps Made?
The USDA creates soil maps through a variety of means. They go out to the region they are mapping and compile data through physical field sampling and technology. They collect additional data through aerial photography and other sensing technology.
Technology has changed how the USDA maps the regions where they gather data. In the past, researchers had to use paper maps, cameras with film that needed to be developed, and topographic sheets to input their data.
Now, they can use tablets that offer GPS and all of the map equipment they need on it. Their digital photos and other data can all be combined using the tablet, to create the soil map as they go along. An additional technological benefit is that in the past these surveys had to be printed. It could take years for the public to have access, which left the potential for the public to only have access to outdated information. That’s no longer the case with the use of tablets, computers, and online publishing.
Information Included in the USDA Soil Survey
A USDA soil survey includes a wide variety of information that provides all of the data. It starts with an overview of the geography of the area, data about the major soil types, detailed pictures, and information on crops and plants located in the area. It also includes in-depth information on the soil, such as depth of the dirt, texture, and permeability.
Value of USDA Soil Survey Maps
To many, dirt is just dirt. The soil is so much more than that, though, as the qualities of the earth can differ from place to place. Land can have limitations and benefits that prompted experts to create a classification system for clay that’s called soil taxonomy. This taxonomy establishes a basis for the proper agricultural and engineering applications available for the soil that exists in a particular spot.
Who Uses Soil Maps?
It may seem like soil maps aren’t something accessible for anyone outside of the US government but these maps are beneficial to other groups. Anyone can get access to the soil maps the USDA creates. The plans are available to the public and have a variety of uses. People can visit the Web Soil Survey site or WSS to access the data and create their own custom soil survey of the areas they choose.
What are Soil Maps Used For?
Developers and builders can use these maps to help in planning out their buildings. The structure of the soil can be crucial to whether or not the area can support development. The ground may be more beneficial for a particular type of construction, or it may show that building in that site isn’t advisable.
Businesses that work with soil, such as farms and ranches, can use soil maps to determine where they should plant their fields or graze their livestock. They can use the information from the soil survey to determine if they should move their flocks to another area or if they should leave a particular field fallow. It can also help if they plan on expanding their farms with an additional property, to give them an idea of whether or not the soil in the area can support their plans.
Even homeowners can benefit from using soil maps. The maps can help them when it comes to starting a garden, planting trees, picking out a new home, or even adding on to an existing home. The information can allow you to make an educated decision on matters that pertain to the land around you.
Whether it’s a prominent developer building a new shopping plaza or a homeowner trying to determine the best place in their backyard to grow vegetables, soil mapping is beneficial. The soil that’s under every building, park, farm, and place on earth has a story to tell. Soil maps make it possible to make the right decision for future soil planning on every level.