"As a landowner and farmer, I never bought a piece of land unless I consulted a soil survey map," says Bruce Knight, Chief of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Now farmers have greater access to soil survey maps with the launch of USDA's Web Soil Survey site, http://soils.usda.gov/survey. The site is a simple yet powerful way to access and analyze soils data that contributes to every aspect of public and private land use and development.
Knight says, "This simple but critical step is often the difference between profit and loss when it comes to land use and conservation activities and I am very pleased to deliver internet access to the public."
Soil surveys began in 1899 as part of the nation's earliest efforts on behalf of cooperative conservation. Known as the National Cooperative Soil Survey, it has evolved into a partnership of state and federal agencies working together to collect, classify, interpret and provide soils information.
The Web site has been designed with three easy to use features-Define, View and Explore and operates much like Internet sites that provide locator and directional information. When viewers visit the web soil survey, they are asked to "Define" a geographic area of interest by selecting a state and county or just by highlighting an area or areas. Once a location has been defined and projected on the screen, the viewer has the choice to print the map and related information, save it to their hard drive or download the data for use in a geographic information system (GIS).
The viewer also can "Explore" the designated location for specific soils data giving the viewer important information on soil suitability in relationship to usage. This flexibility provides the viewer an opportunity to build a customized report that addresses the viewer's individual needs. Information can be delivered in a variety of formats to include print, CD, DVD or other media.
Prior to the launch all soil survey maps were printed and bound into soil survey books that were free to the public at local USDA Service Centers, NRCS field offices and public libraries. The once familiar soil survey publications will be phased out slowly and the federal government's initiative of electronic government information (eGov) will replace the printed publications through the use of this site.
Currently, NRCS has soils maps and data available online for more than 95% of the nation's counties and anticipates having 100 percent in the near future. The site will be updated and maintained online as the single authoritative source of soil survey information.