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Soil Science

Image unearthed soil in the shape of Ohio
The Division of Soil and Water Conservation assists SWCDs with soil investigations, local outreach and educational programs related to soils, and soils-based conservation efforts. The division is also a member of the Ohio Soil Inventory Board, whose membership includes representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS); and Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center (OARDC). This partnership works to cooperatively investigate, inventory, document, classify, interpret, disseminate, and publish information about soils.  

Our History

Most recently, soil and water conservation programs moved from Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to the Department of Agriculture (ODA) under a newly created Division of Soil and Water Conservation on January 1, 2016. However, the Ohio Soil Survey began in 1900, when U.S. Department of Agriculture soil scientists studied the soils in Montgomery County. By 1949, when the Division of Lands and Soil (DLS) was created as one of the seven original divisions in ODNR, soil scientists of USDA and the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station -- now known as OARDC -- completed soil surveys in 32 counties. One more county soil survey project was completed before the DLS was activated and staffed in 1952.

ODNR charged its newly staffed division with working with its partners to complete soil surveys by 1968 in the 55 remaining counties and to replace the 12 soil surveys published before 1920, which were by 1952 considered inadequate. Unfortunately, DLS and USDA soil scientists were able to complete soil surveys in only 23 more counties by 1968, but by then the standards for an adequate soil survey had increased dramatically.

Partners in the Ohio Soil Survey held a "Threshold Acre" Celebration in 1992 to bring attention to completing the soil survey for the 88th county in the state. Field investigations had been completed to replace or update information in soil survey publications from all but one of the counties surveyed before 1952 plus three that were surveyed after 1952.

By 1992, field investigations were already underway to update soils information for seven Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) that considered their soil survey publications to be inadequate for local needs. Soil survey update projects were completed in these seven counties plus two others before the Ohio Soil Inventory Board adopted a more efficient way for soil survey update projects to be conducted in the state.

The Statewide Digital Soils Information Project, completed in 2007, was a major step toward increasing the efficiency at which Ohio's soils information can be updated. 

Educational Resources

Within the Ohio Department of Education's Ohio Department of Education Learning Standards soil science is introduced as a concept in Grade 3.

The following educational resources provide soil science information for Grades K-12 as well as college-level material

  • Grades K-6, 7-12, and College Level material
  • Provides lesson plans, soils information, and multiple external links and resources

Soil Soil Society of America

  • K-12 soil science teacher resources
  • Information by topic and lesson plans
  • Developed by ODA soil scientists as a soil science manual for Ohio FFA Land Judging
  • Official Soil Survey of the United States
  • Interactive soils map that easily displays properties such as parent material, soil order, etc.

Ohio Soil Regions

The soils of Ohio are rather diverse due to multiple periods of glacial activity. The high-lime content glaciated soils of western Ohio differ immensely from the low-lime content unglaciated soils of eastern Ohio. To better understand the soil diversity of Ohio, groupings of common soil series were identified to determine the 12 Soil Regions of Ohio. To learn more about the soils regions, how they were developed, and how they relate to the NRCS Major Land Resource Areas (MLRA), download the Soil Regions of Ohio document (upper right corner of this page).

Soil Testing

Testing your soil every 2 to 3 years is a good way to monitor the fertility and general health of your soil.  It is an inexpensive way to assess proper nutrient application rates tailored for different crop needs. 

Standard soil tests can give you the following results:
  • Soil pH
  • Organic Matter %
  • Nutrient levels (P, K, Mg, Ca)
  • Micronutrient levels (S, Zn, Fe, Cu, Mn)
  • Cation Exchange Capacity
Many soil tests will also come with recommendations regarding liming rates to adjust soil pH and fertilizer application rates to adjust nutrient levels. 

Current Agricultural Use Value Tax System

The Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) is a program under the Ohio Department of Taxation where farmland devoted to commercial agriculture is taxed at a rate reflective of its value for agricultural purposes instead of its “highest and best” potential use. This CAUV is well below market value, which most often results in lower taxes for farmers. 
The CAUV is set each year by the Ohio Department of Taxation. Values are set for each of Ohio’s soil types and is calculated using the following factors:
  • Yield information
  • Cropping Patterns
  • Crop Prices
  • Non-land Production Costs
  • Capitalization Rate

Home Sewage Treatment Systems

The Ohio Department of Health regulates sewage treatment systems across the state, including small flow on-site sewage treatment systems. Often these system use the soil to treat sewage.

An accurate soil evaluation is critical information to determine sewage treatment system design options for a property. The Ohio Department of Health maintains a list of soil scientists with the knowledge and experience to review of site and soil conditions.