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How To Use a Soil Survey

This publication is also available in its original form as a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation:
How To Use a Soil Survey (PPT; 9 MB)

What is a published Soil Survey?

Overview of soil survey map

A soil survey is a detailed report on the soils of an area. The soil survey has maps with soil boundaries and photos, descriptions, and tables of soil properties and features. Soil surveys are used by farmers, real estate agents, land use planners, engineers and others who desire information about the soil resource.

The major parts of a soil survey publication

  • Table of Contents
  • Detailed soil map units
  • Use and management and interpretive tables
  • Classification of soils
  • References
  • Glossary
  • Index to map sheets
  • Soil maps
Detail of soil survey map

Using the soil survey

  • Obtain a printed soil survey from the NRCS, USDA office, or local conservation office or access a Web version.
  • Open the soil survey to Index To Map Sheets
  • Locate your area of interest or property on the Index.
  • The numbers in rectangles correspond to the map sheet number located in the second half of the publication.
  • Look at the aerial map closely and locate landmarks such as roads or streams to find your area of interest.
  • The lines on the image separate different soil types. Your area of interest may include one or more types.
  • The small letters or numbers that are within the same polygon as your area of interest, such as ScC, or KnC, or LaC designate a map unit. Note this map unit symbol. It is the key to finding information.
  • Turn to the Index to Map Units which shows the page where these map units are described. Also go to the various tables or reports which are organized by map unit symbol.
  • This process is simplified in Web soil surveys but follow the same sequence:
  1. Locate your area of interest of the maps.
  2. Note the map unit symbol.
  3. Go to the text or tables for information on that map unit.
  • If you find a term or soil description in the detailed information sheet on your soil and you would like to learn what that term means, go the Glossary section of the report. The Glossary is located in the center of the publication.
Soil map showing various features

Using the soil survey - Tables

  • The Tables section of the soil survey report provides detailed information on soil properties and their suitability and limitations as well as management and production potential of the various soils.
  • The Tables section has detailed information on engineering index properties, physical and chemical properties, and soil and water features.
  • The Tables section also has detailed information on soil use, such as crops and pasture, recreation, and engineering.
  • To use the tables, simply remember your map unit symbol and find it in the appropriate table.
Pine tree and the ground below it

Other useful information

The soil survey report may have other useful information such as the general soils map, prime farmland, use and management of soils, processes and factors of soil formation, and landforms and surface geology.


Find out more about soil surveys

USDA Service Center sign

If, after reviewing the soil survey report, you still have unanswered questions about the soil survey or your soil, please contact the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service or conservation district office nearest you.