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Soil Surveys

Illinois Cooperative Soil Survey

Each soil has a unique combination of characteristics and potentials for selected land uses. Thus, to apply collective knowledge and to make the best choices for farmland, woodland, building sites, and other land uses, a soil survey is needed.

A soil survey is very simply an inventory of one of our most basic natural resources--the soil. A soil survey report contains maps which show the distribution and extent of soils in an area. The narrative describes the soils and provides interpretations concerning the use and management of each soil for such uses as agriculture, forestry, recreation, building site development, and sanitary facilities. A soil survey is a fundamental tool to sound soil and water management, crop production, and land use.

To make a soil survey, soil scientists walk across the land making field observations. They observe slopes, vegetation, and every feature they believe might affect use of the soil. They dig many holes to expose soil profiles, and they record information about the characteristics of the profiles they study to classify and name the soils. Boundaries of the individual soil areas are plotted on aerial photographs.

While a soil survey is in progress, samples of soils are taken as needed for laboratory measurements and engineering tests. This work is done in addition to the field tests made to identify the soils and check interpretations of their behavior during the course of the survey. The mass of soils information is finally organized into a soil survey publication.

In Illinois, the following agencies listed below cooperate to produce, publish, and promote soil surveys.

Soil survey work in Illinois began in 1902. By 1929 the "first generation" soil survey of the state was complete. Since 1953, "second generation" soil surveys have been published for more than 70 of Illinois' 102 counties. Soil mapping was completed in Jefferson County this year (1995), making detailed soil survey information available for the entire state. (See attached status map.)

The objective of the soil survey program in Illinois is to provide a soil survey of the state that is complete, current, and meets the needs of the users. Though we now have a complete survey, it consists of a medley of county reports, completed over a 40 year period, and published at various scales. So, the inventory is not current in every county, and not all of the soil surveys meet users needs.

An update/maintenance program has been initiated that will bring the patchwork of county soil surveys to a common, state-of-the-art standard. A digital soil survey of Illinois is the "next generation" product.

Fortunately, we in Illinois have many types of good soils. Given the quality and quantity of information available on soil in Illinois, there can be no justification for the inappropriate use of soil for farming, forestry, housing, recreation, industrial development or any other purpose. Soil surveys provide all users with information about their soils and how to manage them properly. It contains predictions of soil behavior for selected land uses. The survey also highlights limitations and hazards inherent in the soil. Improvements needed to overcome the limitations, and the impact of selected land uses on the environment.

The soil survey can be a valuable aid in the future orderly development of agriculture, commerce, and industry in an area. It guides one in using the land intelligently and strengthens our ability to support an ever growing population.

Some users of soil survey information:

  • Farmers and Farm Managers use basic soil facts in order to manage the soils on their farms for profitable crop production.
  • Engineers want a thorough knowledge of the soils to help locate and design highways and airports, radio and radar stations, dams and reservoirs, foundations - and to plan for flood control, drainage, and irrigation.
  • Land Appraisers have many reasons for wanting soils information. Equitable land evaluations are important for making loans and investments, selecting home and business sites, and for equalization of tax assessments.
  • Foresters and Woodland Owners want to know the yield potential of the land for specific kinds of timber. They can plan better forest management programs when the timber producing potential of the soil is known. Soil survey information is very helpful in selecting areas for tree planting and in deciding which tree species to plant.
  • Manufacturers of fertilizers, farm supplies, and farm equipment can use soils information to locate potential markets for their products. They are also, interested in building and supporting a "permanent" agriculture.
  • Zoning and Planning Commissions find basic soil facts helpful in guiding the "urbanization" of our land. Aerial maps provide a basis for planned land use and development in the best interest of the public.
  • Investors find soil surveys and the interpretations that accompany them very helpful in determining the soundness of proposed investments. Anyone purchasing a farm needs to know the production potential of the soils.
  • Real Estate Dealers, Home Builders, and Sub-dividers must worry about such things as good foundations, adequate drainage, operation of septic tank fields, preparation of lawns, and selection of shrubbery. Soil facts help solve such problems.
  • Watershed Planning Groups use soils information to guide their action programs in watershed development, determine watershed problems, and inform the community of possible solutions.
  • Canneries and Processors want to locate their plants where they can be assured of a reliable source of raw materials. Are there enough farms with soils suitable for growing fruits and vegetables, corn, potatoes, navy beans, or sugar beets? Soil facts help provide the answers.
  • Highway Departments and Railroads need to know basic soil facts along highway and rail routes; how soils need to be handled; effects of freezing and thawing; how to stabilize slopes and future drainage needs.
  • Oil and Gas Companies use soils information to locate and design pipelines and plan for erosion control along the right-of-way. Telephone and power companies have similar needs for soils data.
  • Credit Agencies often want to know the earning power of farms as determined by their soils. Banks and other lending agencies use soil facts as a basis for making loans and stable arrangements for repayment.
  • Wildlife Workers find soil surveys helpful in planning wildlife area improvements; designing and constructing ponds' and locating recreation, hunting, and fishing sites.
  • Public Officials must acquire land for schools, parks, reservoirs, and other purposes. Soils information can be quite helpful in determining suitability, cost, and construction details.