I am baffled when real estate brokers or appraisers declare soil is just dirt. That is the same as a concertmaster referring to a Stradivarius violin as just a fiddle.
The soil is the foundation of all real estate. We live on it, play on it, and gather food from it. The types of soil beneath our homes, our shopping centers, our highways our parks or hunting ground, and our farms influences each daily activity. So, having a basic knowledge of soil is vital for our existence.
The USDA Department of Natural Resources Conservation Services provides soil surveys for all land in Missouri. Sometimes the terminology can be confusing, so let’s review the jargon and perhaps make it easier to understand. To help our review below is a soil map and map unit on a 61 acre Callaway county property we recently sold.
Soil Horizon—Is a layer generally parallel to the soil crust, whose physical characteristics differ from the layers above and beneath. Each soil type usually has three or four horizons. Horizons are defined in most cases by visible physical features, chiefly color and texture.
Below is Menfro soil series, the Missouri state soil and Drummer soil series the Illinois state soil. Note the difference in depth of the horizons.
Soil Classification A way of describing a given plot of soil and the sand, clay, and/ or silt. The grain size range is used as the basis for grouping soil particles into sand, silt or clay. The blending of any two or three of these components in the grouping changes the appearance, texture and possible uses.
Years ago, when our two daughters were in high school, they and my wife would each make chocolate chip cookies using the same recipe. However, I could always tell whose cookies I was eating. My wife loves chocolate, so she would eat a few of the chocolate chips in the mix before placing the dough on the sheet and baking it. Now, the older daughter was the perfectionist and followed the recipe directions to a T, but the younger daughter loved the cookie dough and would eat part of the mixture before baking it. All the cookies had the same ingredients but in different proportions. In soil terminology, the chocolate chips recipe would be the same “series,” but each of their unique combinations of the ingredients created different “series types.”
Each parcel of land has its unique soil series and soil types. I grew up on a central Illinois grain/livestock farm. The ground was flat with no more than a 2% slope at one end. To the passer-by, the soils looked the same, but there were six different soil series. Each series had slightly different characteristics that were apparent when farming. There were also yield differences, depending on rains and other climate conditions.
While soil knowledge is essential to farmers, it is also crucial to hunters. Today’s hunters want a hunting tract that has soil suitable for food plots. More than once, I’ve had buyers show up to inspect my listings with a copy of the soil map from my website.
Soil information is essential to home builders also. The subsoil determines how the house foundation should be constructed or where septic tanks and laterals can be installed. A few years ago, a couple purchased a 90-acre tract from me and used the soil information to find the right soil to establish a septic tank. This was important since they wanted to avoid a lagoon.
Last year, I closed a sale on 80 acres of woods to a very unlikely buyer. The property was ideally located for him but lacked the pasture land he wanted. He was ready to buy another property until I showed him how the soils on 30 acres of the area were suitable for pasture once the cedar trees were removed. Last month, he called and wanted to show me his property. The 30 acres had been cleared of cedars and seeded to grass. He was excited about his new purchase and was now planning to build a home. By the way, that other property is still for sale.
When I list land, I devote at least 10 to 12 hours to studying the soils and preparing a 25-to-30-page report. I then place that report and the soil maps on my website. While this has been a great sales tool for me, it has become an embarrassment for other land brokers when buyers ask why they don’t have any soil information on their listings. If a broker doesn’t know the difference between dirt and soil, then soil information is meaningless to them. What is the difference?
Dirt is found in a vacuum sweeper.