When searching for farmland, or managing your existing farmland, you want to use every tool at your disposal. The Web Soil Survey (WSS), run by the Natural Resource Conservation Center (NRCS), is a free and powerful resource you’ll definitely want in your toolbox. This interactive online map provides detailed land use and soils information for over 95% of all U.S. farmland. Maps are to scale and give you the functionality to take measurements, calculate area, and add useful layers like topography.
Oftentimes, determining land use and soil types is one of the first steps needed when applying for a range of farmland protection and conservation programs. And when searching for land with a specific soil type to grow your specialty crop, this tool could help you rule out a site with undesirable qualities rather quickly. A farmer may, for instance, propose fairer negotiation terms with a landowner knowing if additional labor, machinery, or inputs are needed to modify existing soil conditions.
From our use, we wouldn’t say the WSS platform is immediately intuitive. This tutorial video by American Farmland Trust will save you time getting started. It gives you an overview of how to locate your Area of Interest within the map, view the database of soil types and land use information, and print maps and reports.
Another tool we have found helpful is AcreValue. In our experience, their online map is easier to navigate than the WSS map. The free version offers basic information like parcel acreage and soil productivity index. They have also created an algorithm that gives an estimated price/acre based on nearby sales history (generally only applicable for larger tracts of land).
Paid versions of AcreValue (starting at $11/mo.) will give you more information, like soil types and crop history, with the ability to print maps and reports. While much of this information is free through WSS, the AcreValue maps and reports are quite easy to produce and visually appealing. The Plus level paid version can also give you information on the current owner of a parcel of land, which could prove helpful in your land search.
Both tools pair well, and we encourage you to explore their capabilities with your land or in your search for land. If you are just looking to browse a map quickly, check parcel sizes or boundaries, or get a feel for land prices in an area, the free version of AcreValue is a good place to start. If you are needing to gain more precise land information, like the size of a particular paddock or how many linear feet of road access a property has, WSS is best.
Navigating the WSS tool will take a bit of investment (and some patience!), but the free information it provides can prove invaluable in your land management or search.
Please reach out to Jim at email@example.com if you have questions. We’d also be happy to host a virtual training to help navigate these online resources if there was interest.