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What is a Soil Survey?


A soil survey is an inventory of soil resources that includes:

  • Maps of locations and extent of soils

  • Chemical and Physical properties

  • Interpretation of soil properties into potential uses and problems

Soil surveys are produced on private lands across the nation as part of the National Cooperative Soil Survey program. This program is led by the NRCS National Soil Survey Center. Soil surveys provide an orderly, on-the-ground, scientific inventory of soil resources that includes maps showing the locations and extent of soils, data about the physical and chemical properties of those soils, and information derived from that data about potentialities and problems of use on each kind of soil in sufficient detail to meet all reasonable needs for farmers, agricultural technicians, community planners, engineers, and scientists in planning and transferring the findings of research and experience to specific land areas. Soil surveys provide the basic information needed to manage soil sustainably.

Soil surveys are used as information to protect many areas of the environment.

They also provide information needed to protect water quality, wetlands, and wildlife habitat. Soil surveys are the basis for predicting the behavior of a soil under alternative uses, its potential erosion hazard, potential for ground water contamination, suitability and productivity for cultivated crops, trees, and grasses. Soil surveys are important to planners, engineers, zoning commissions, tax commissioners, homeowners, developers, as well as agricultural producers. Soil surveys also provide a basis to help predict the effect of global climate change on worldwide agricultural production and other land-dependent processes. The NRCS Soil Survey Division helps gather and interpret soil information.

The soil survey is for anyone that owns, rents, or uses land in an agricultural, urban, rural, or suburban setting.

NRCS provides the soil surveys for the privately owned lands of the nation and, through its National Soil Survey Center, provides scientific expertise to enable the NCSS to develop and maintain a uniform system for mapping and assessing soil resources so that soil information from different locations can be shared, regardless of which agency collects it. NRCS provides most of the training in soil survey to Federal agencies and assists other Federal agencies with their soil inventories on a reimbursable basis. NRCS is also responsible for developing the standards and mechanisms for providing digital soil information for the national spatial data infrastructure required by Executive Order 12906