After 100 Years, Georgia’s Initial Soil Survey Completed

Soil scientists from across the southeastern region of the U.S. came together recently in Macon, Georgia to celebrate what has taken over 100 years to complete – the initial phase of the soil survey of Georgia. Production of soil surveys involves studying the nature and properties of soils, mapping their location on the landscape, and interpreting their sets of characteristics. These early efforts helped build the foundation of Georgia’s number one industry, agriculture, by informing people how to better understand these valuable resources and use them wisely. As a result, soils information and soil maps for all of Georgia’s 159 counties can be accessed online through the Web Soil Survey.

The State Conservationist for Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Georgia Terrance O. Rudolph shared in the celebration by reflecting on his earlier days with the agency, “I remember some of my earliest mentors teaching me the importance of why the soil survey was the foundation for our conservation planning. I knew from then on, this work was creating a vital tool for our conservation toolbox. Our agency’s technical assistance, that helped preserve our nation’s soil resources for almost 80 years, was and is dependent upon knowing the characteristics of the soil and how to keep it healthy.”

This endeavor started with the completion of the first soil surveys in Cobb County, located north of Atlanta, and the Covington Area in central north Georgia. These first surveys were published in 1901 by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Soils (later combined with the Soil Conservation Service, which was later renamed the NRCS) and ended with the last soil survey of Bartow County, located in northwest Georgia, in 2014.

Over 200 soil scientists from many different organizations (Federal, State, local agencies, as well as private entities and institutions) contributed to the effort traversing the landscape of Georgia, observing, examining, studying, sampling, analyzing, classifying and naming the soils.

The first soil series established in Georgia were named Tifton, Grady, and Chastain. These series were established during the soil survey of Grady County, located in southwest Georgia, conducted by Hugh Hammond Bennett and published in 1909. Early on in Bennett’s career he accepted an assignment to work on a soil survey in Tennessee, an assignment which in his words “fixed my life’s work in soils.”1  Bennett, who went on to become the first Chief of what is now known as the NRCS, worked on three of Georgia’s earliest soil surveys.

According to recently retired Georgia State Soil Scientist Steve Lawrence, “An understanding of soils, similarities and differences they exhibit, how they function, and how they respond to management is fundamental to much of the work we do.”

While technology has changed the way soil surveys are conducted and used, they’ve continued to play important roles over the century in the production of food, fiber, and forage crops; hayfields; pastures; and forest lands across Georgia. This knowledge allows producers to understand how to manage the land they are using to grow the best crops possible, but also provides critical information to other industries as well. One example is the construction industry where engineers build their site plans based on soil related considerations that affect their projects, whether they are residential, commercial or industrial in nature.

By all accounts, this celebration was significant, but it is in no way the final chapter for soil survey work in Georgia. Ongoing efforts will enhance the quality of soil surveys by evaluating and analyzing the work that was conducted by previous generations of soil scientists and bring them up to current and consistent standards. Utilization of new technologies will help with the next phase as we build upon our understanding of the soils to help Georgia’s farmers, timber producers, and other industries become even more efficient and competitive on a global scale.

For more information on the history of Georgia’s soil survey visit http://tinyurl.com/ofqdtwr offsite link image    .