Soil characteristics can vary greatly from one region to another. And since soil quality has a significant impact on the health of wild and cultivated plants, as well as grazing animals, it’s useful to evaluate soil for purposes of farming and agriculture. A soil map is an essential tool in this process.


Soil maps provide a defined representation of soil diversity within a set area and are based on various specifics, including pH, texture, organic components, etc. These maps are created through the assessment of a soil surveyor.

In the past, a combination of geographical and chemistry techniques was used to define soil characteristics—mainly based on texture. This information was recorded and applied to soil surveyor base maps. These base maps were kept as references for agricultural and land-use purposes and were often published for landowners and farmers in individual counties.

Today, more comprehensive metrics and a series of sophisticated surveying tools are used to create and maintain vector and raster maps, as well as 2D and 3D visualizations of soil properties.

Apart from custom-generated digital references, soil maps will sometimes be accompanied by reports or manuals that are catered to farmers, conservationists, civil engineers, and other specialists.

Soil maps can also be useful for homeowners, gardeners, and homesteaders to determine whether their land can adequately meet their needs, whether for the expansion of a garden, planting of fruit trees, or construction of a barn or a shed.

In the United States, national soil mapping is done by the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The resulting data is accessible through the NRCS Web Soil Survey, which provides a series of tools for viewing soil qualities in a specific location.

What Is The NRCS Web Soil Survey?

The NRCS was once known as the Soil Conservation Service and is part of the USDA. It provides many services to assist farmers and landowners with soil and resource management, including official soil surveying throughout the United States and the release of various soil mapping and evaluation resources.

The NRCS soil survey details soil boundaries within a geographic area and provides specifics on soil classification as well as land use, management, and interpretive guidance.

NRCS soil maps are available for more than 95 percent of the nation’s counties. This information can be accessed through the Web Soil Survey (WSS), which is an interactive, online reference that provides the most current soil qualities in a specific location.

Users can input location specifics, generate a custom soil map, and learn more about soil characteristics in that area to determine if the soil will be suitable for their use requirements.

Past USDA soil maps and historic survey documents are also available through the NRCS’s soil survey archives. Comparing past and present soil maps can be very useful for conservation and sustainability purposes.

How To Use A Soil Web Survey

Using the NRCS’s WSS starts with the Area of Interest (AOI) Interactive Map, which shows the continuous United States but can also be used to view Hawaii, Alaska, and U.S. territories. This view can be used to manually navigate to the soil survey area or the Quick Navigation feature can be used to enter their location specifics. Within this location, AOI boundaries can be highlighted or drawn.

Once an area is selected, the Soil Map tab will provide numbered soil classifications. For each numbered section, a Unit Legend will specify soil type by percentage and also detail its composition, properties, and quantities. Many other details, including frost and precipitation data, drainage class, flood frequency, runoff class, etc. are specified.

The Soil Data Explorer will provide even more insight into soil properties and health, which can be highly informative for land use and management. This information can be printed, downloaded, or added to an order for a customized report.

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