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History of Kansas Soil Survey

History of Kansas Soil Survey

Complied by Wesley L. Barker
October 1987

Soil Survey work has been going on in Kansas since around the turn of the century. However, this short history will deal with that time after the establishment of the Soil Conservation Service in 1935. The early soil surveys were on maps made by the surveyor using a plane table. Starting in the late 1930's, aerial photographs were used as a base map for the soil surveys. Soil scientists of that day were convinced these new aerial photographs would not work, but time has proven them to be most valuable.

Mr. Alvin W. Goke was stationed in Salina, Kansas, from approximately 1936 to 1946. He was in charge of the eastern Kansas detailed legend which was used at that time. This was a legend using the soil series as a basis for mapping the soils. It is unclear however, if his title was state soil scientist or area soil scientist.

Following World War II, Mr. Nicholas Holowaychuk was State Soil Scientist from July 1945 to June 1947. His office was at Kansas State in Manhattan. He was transferred from Montana to Kansas, and for reasons unknown to the author, he resigned after about a year in Kansas and moved to Ohio. He received his doctorate from Ohio State where he taught for many years.

Dr. Claude L. Fly was State Soil Scientist from July 1947 to 1952 when he resigned to take an overseas assignment. While headquartered at Kansas State University, Dr. Fly designed a new soil legend which was known as Fly's State Legend. This legend was also designed with the soil series concept in mind. Most, if not all, of the reconnaissance maps were printed with Fly's legend and were mostly written by Fly and Robert Eikleberry. Most of the field work for these reconnaissance maps was completed in the early 1940's by several different soil scientists.

The Soil Conservation Service has had responsibility for soil surveys since 1935, but until 1952, the Bureau of Plant Industry had all correlation responsibilities. Saline, Geary. Ellsworth, and Brown Counties were completely mapped during that time. Saline county was written by Arvid Cline; Geary County, by Dr. O. W. Bidwell of KSU; Brown County, by Robert Eikleberry; and Ellsworth County was not published. Before 1952, most other soil surveys were made only for farm planning and special projects.

Sometime in t he early 50's, Kansas used what was known as the National Code. This was a legend foreign to the series concept. Some learned people believed this legend was a detriment to the soil survey in Kansas, and it was soon discontinued.

Henry Otsuki and Dick Jackson handled the soil survey needs after Dr. Fly's resignation and before Art Nelson came to Kansas as State Soil Scientist in 1953. In July 1955, the standard soil surveyor or progressive soil survey was initiated in Hamilton County with C. W. McBee as party leader. The final acre was mapped in Washington County in 1987 under this system with Stanley Glaum as party leader. Also started in 1955 were Republic, Stevens, and Ford Counties with Harry Atkinson, Harold Dickey, and Darold Dodge being the respective party leaders.

Progressive soil surveys started in 1956 were in Logan, Shawnee, Reno, Butler and Finney Counties with respective party leaders being -- Elbert Bell, Walter Abmeyer, James Rockers, Harold Penner, and Rodney Harner. All other counties in the state were put on progressive status in an orderly fashion as personnel became available. The largest number of soil scientists in Kansas was 47 in 1959.

Mr. Nelson retired in December 1965, and C. W. McBee became State Soil Scientist in 1966. Mr. McBee retired in 1981 and William Roth became State Soil Scientist, the position he now holds.

All soil surveys made in Kansas have been in cooperation with the Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station. To better coordinate the progressive soil survey and to keep soil scientists aware of all the latest information, the following state soil scientist meetings were conducted:

  • 1957 - Hutchinson
  • 1958 - Dodge City
  • 1960 - Salina (Bell Hotel)
  • 1965 - Manhattan (Waters Hall)
  • 1968 - Manhattan
  • 1980 - Salina (Heart of America)
  • 1983 - Salina (Mid-America)
  • 1985 - Salina (Heart of America)
  • 1987 - Parsons

Kansas Soil Survey Facts - November 1987

Kansas encompasses 82,277 square miles or 52,657,500 acres.

Kansas has 29.1 million acres of cropland, 16.9 million acres rangeland, 2.2 million acres of pastureland.

Kansas with 25.6 million prime farmland acres is second only t o Texas. According to the 1982 National Resource Inventory (NRI), over 19 million acres are cropped.

Kansas has 304 named soil series. The major soils in Kansas are:

Series name Acres
Harney 3.98 million
Richfield 2.57 million
Ulysses 2.99 million

The dominant soil texture is silt loam.

The rainfall variation in Kansas ranges from <18 to >40 inches per year . Moisture is the only limiting factor to crop production over much of the state.

Kansas has 10.6 million acres of highly erodible cropland and nearly 25 million acres total HEL.

There are over 300,000 acres of hydric soils which may or may not be considered wetlands depending on the presence or hydrophytic plants.

The first modern soil survey was initiated in Brown County in 1946. Progressive or standard soil survey, as we know it today, began in Hamilton County in 1955 and ended in Washington County in 1987.

The number of soil scientists in Kansas has varied over time. Forty-seven is the highest in 1959, and currently there are 17 soil scientists across the state. The total number of soil scientists having worked in Kansas is 72.

Ninety-six Kansas counties have published soil surveys currently. From 1980-82, 22 soil surveys were published averaging over 7 per year.

Current Activities

Area soil scientists are providing soils interpretations, distributing soil survey information, and assisting field offices in ongoing SCS operations.

Automation is an important part of current soils activity.

Soil scientists are editing soils data for entry into Computer Assisted Management Planning System (CAMPS). About one-third of the current soils data base will be loaded for use in CAMPS.

Updating of old surveys is underway in Saline and Geary counties. Brown and Reno counties are scheduled to be updated in FYs 89 and 90. This is an ongoing effort to insure that they are adequately meeting ours and others' needs.

Efforts in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are to digitize soils for PL- 566 watershed work.

Compiled by William Roth, State Soil Scientist, SCS, Salina, Kansas

This information is also available for download (require Adobe Reader).

History of Kansas Soil Survey (PDF; 2 MB)
(document includes maps of Kansas showing annual precipitation, general soil map, major land resource areas, general prime farmlands, erosion areas, and land use)