The value of mapping tools to Farmers
In my work as the Vermont Field Agent for Land For Good, I work with both farmers looking for land and non-farming property owners who are looking to make their land available for agriculture. One of the first things that I often ask about are the types of soils on the properties that are under discussion. In many cases, the first response I get is, “We have sent soils out to be tested.” But, soil tests answer a different question than what I am asking. While soil tests will tell you about soil fertility and organic matter, they do not identify the soil types, known “soil series”, which is how the USDA categorizes different soils. The soil types, such as “Hadley Silt Loam” or “Vergennes Clay” or “Cabot Stoney Loam” or “Windsor Loamy Fine Sand” are based on characteristics influenced by the formation of the soil over geologic time. The characteristics of a given soil type will influence aspects such as tillage, drainage, native fertility, and yield potential.
The Vermont Natural Resource Atlas
A relatively new tool is available in Vermont, the Vermont Natural Resources Atlas, which can be used to map soils as well as other features of use to farmers such as property boundaries, acreage and flooding hazards and much more!
Below is a soil map of farmland along the Connecticut River in Westminster, VT that was generated using the Atlas. Information on individual soil types, known as “Soil Fact Sheets,” can also be retrieved from this site as is illustrated here.
In the next map below, the Atlas is showing wetlands and flood hazard potential. Indeed, this farmland and section of US Route 5 did flood after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, causing the farmers to lose tens of thousands of dollars of crops. But, fortunately, the house and barn did not, despite being mapped in the hazard zone. The farmers continue to farm this land because it is highly productive, but are keenly aware that flooding is likely to occur again.
The next map demonstrates how the Atlas tool can be used to generate a map of field acreage.
Spend some time exploring this highly useful resource and you will likely find other features of interest on your property to map. Having information on soils, flooding, and acreage will help you to better understand the agricultural potential of any farmland that you are considering, as well as alert you to hazards. Having maps of the land that you are farming, or that you are considering leasing or buying, will help service providers, like myself, in the evaluation of the property and assessing whether it’s a good fit for your needs.
A full tutorial, with detailed screen shots and farmer specific instructions for using the Atlas can be downloaded below:
For more assistance on mapping your property or for assistance with farmland access, purchase, and leasing issues, I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org