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Purchasing Land By Soil Type – Understanding Soil Surveys

When you are in the market to purchase land one important consideration is soil quality.  Your soil considerations should be based on the intended use for the land. Do you want to grow crops, graze animals, manage timber, provide recreation opportunities or conserve wildlife, wetlands and other sensitive features? The higher the soil quality the better crops and trees will grow. These will be better drained sites for constructing homes and cabins as well.

The U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has provided a plethora of information online at Web Soil Survey. The online data is complex. Some soil knowledge or basic mapping skills are necessary to navigate this site. We, at United Country Lifestyle Properties of Maine, have made this process easier for our customers and clients through the use of mapping software that simplifies the NRCS data into an easy to understand soil report.

Soil Types

NRCS has identified more than 70,000 soil types in the United States.   Maine has soil types such as Monarda, Dixmont, Howland, Thorndike, Bangor and many others. The types or series of soils will be abbreviated on maps and reports such as Mo for Monarda or Ba for Bangor. Soils are given compound names such as Bangor silt loam. The first part of the name, Bangor, refers to the soil type. The second part, in this case silt loam, refers to the structural texture of the soil. You can find a soil triangle like the one below online to help determine the texture. I’m not going to discuss the various simple to complex testing methods that can be done for soil texture, you can Google search this topic and find a number of articles and videos showing these methods.  Here is a link to a simple jar method. https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/soil-texture-analysis-the-jar-test/  

Capability Classes

Soil types are assigned classes from I to VIII based on their suitability for agriculture. They are also assigned subclasses based on their limitations of e,w,s, and c which stand for erosion, water, shallow or droughty and cold climate.

Capability Classes I – VIII with I being most desirable. Classes I-IV will support most types of cultivation and V-VII do not support cultivation but can accommodate forestry and grazing. Class VIII land does not support cultivation, grazing or timber production and includes cliff faces and other rock outcrops, beaches, river and creek beds.

 

Understanding Soil Code

Looking at a soil type map for the first time is Greek to most people. But with use of the NRCS Websoil Survey or a mapping platform such as Mapright, these codes will become easy to use. So, the next time you see BaC 3e, you can refer to the capability view and know that this is Bangor Silt Loam with 8-15% slopes and the limiting factor to its agriculture productivity is its propensity for erosion. It can be used for growing crops as long as a lot of conservation measures are used. It probably is better suited to grazing and would certainly grow trees very well.

While doing due diligence in the review of a specific property, don’t eliminate it just because it has class IV – VIII soils, they have value, just not to a farmer. Most of Maine has some limitation to its soils from rocks to slopes to bedrock and so on. Class I and II soils with no limitations are rare and expensive.

Limitations

Like most online data, the US NRCS soil mapping has limitations and localized exceptions will be found on most every site. These reports should not be replaced with an on-ground inspection of individual properties. If soil conditions are critical to your intended use of the property, a soil professional should be consulted.

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