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Buying LandOwning LandSelling Land

Using Soil Maps to Evaluate Land

December 6, 2018

When evaluating a property for agriculture, timber, and homesteading use, it’s useful to review soil maps to understand what the soils are like and help plan the best uses for the land.

What Information Can A Soil Map Provide?

Soil maps can show you what types of soil are thought to be present on a parcel and what those soil types are suitable for. It is not an actual survey of the property or soil types, does not account for changes in grading or amendments, and you will find some variances, but it IS a baseline planning tool that you can use as a starting point. If specific information is needed, soil tests and/or environmental engineering studies should be done during the due diligence process when acquiring a new parcel.

What Does A Soil Map Look Like?

Below is an example image of a soil map overlay for a 79-acre parcel of land in Buncombe County, NC. This specific map is created using National Land Realty’s website by clicking on the property, then choosing “View Area Sales” in the LandTour360 screen to go to the 2D map view. From there, you might have to zoom back into the parcel highlighted with the green dot and then you can click on “layers” and choose to view the soils layer.

How Can Information About Soil Types Be Located And Applied?

Take for example the soil types EdD (Edneyville-Chestnut complex, 15 to 30 percent slopes, stony) and EwD (EwD—Evard-Cowee complex, 15 to 30 percent slopes, stony), both near the center of the property in a darker shade of green in the image above. We can cross-reference that soil type with the county’s soil survey published by the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. According to soil survey information for Buncombe County, these soils are poorly suited as traditional cropland due to slopes, but may suitable for pasture and hay. Both soil types also are appropriate for upland hardwood and pine timber production, though EdD comes in highly suitable for this use and EwD is rated as suitable. In both cases, the soil surveys also show they may be poorly suited for septic absorption.

This last item could be a concern for some buyers since the area identified as EdD is also the most likely build site due to 360-degree long range views. So, in this case, the seller took steps to make sure a home could be built there. We connected them with experts in the county environmental department and they did some on-site analysis of the actual soils and concluded that the soils could support a 4-bedroom septic system. This step was inexpensive, preserved the potential for a home site location for use, and protected the value of the property.

Another important data point in the county soil survey documents for those growing timber is the site-index. Site index is a measure of the productive capacity for a site and foresters use this information in forest management planning to assist clients with timber production and forest health goals. It quantifies the relative ability of the soil to grow a specific type of tree to a particular height over a specified number of years (typically 50 years). In this case, table 9 in the soil survey shows that EwD (Evard) has a site index of 95 for yellow poplar and a site index of 73 for shortleaf pine, meaning that if you planted one of these trees today and came back in 50 years, you would expect that the poplar would have grown to 95’ tall and the pine would be 73’ tall.

Other tables such as table 6 in the soil survey show estimated crop yields and here we can look up EwD and note that in addition to grasses and hay, it also has the potential to produce corn and burley tobacco.

Finally, the soil survey can provide general guidance for wildlife habitat, engineering and building, and other potential uses based on soil types and more information that will help landowners plan out the best use of their land.

Other Tools:

In addition to the National Land Realty map tool, the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service hosts a Web Soil Survey (WSS) System that can be used to evaluate soil types present in a defined area, and the capabilities of the soil present. This tool is more difficult to use, but ties together all of the information from the soil survey in a detailed database.

I help my clients understand land and provide them with education and knowledge to make informed decisions. I also ensure they are working with the right legal, surveying, soil and landslide consultants, foresters, and other professionals to protect their interests and their land. If you’re looking for a professional land broker or need help understanding soil maps like this, let me know! Pat Snyder,

About the Author
Pat (he/him/his) is a retired U.S. Air Force officer, active Rotarian, and manages Western NC land brokerage for National Land Realty. Clients hire him to help them navigate difficult land transactions, which he does through a consultative team approach. This includes research, analysis, and collaboration with trusted vendors and experts, all executed with skillful project management to keep transactions on schedule. Pat was ranked #9 out of over 21,132 regional REALTORs in total Land Sales for 2021 and ranked #12 in the nation for National Land Realty brokers that year. For Seller Clients: Pat invests in every client with unmatched national advertising tailored to appeal to the most likely buyers with a team of professionals who ensure properties have the best exposure. For Buyer Clients: He devotes time to educating and empowering them to make decisions based on market trends, conservation, timber, land use, legal concerns, and other factors important to land buyers. Pat is a Certified Negotiations Expert, REALTOR Land Institute Member, and on the board of directors of the Rotary Club of Asheville and EcoForesters (a non-profit focused on sustainable forestry practices and protecting the native Appalachian landscape). View Pat's Listings and Reviews on