The 6 Types of Soil and Why the Type You Have Matters

by Laura Mueller

Are the plans that you have for your property going to be able to take root? It might depend on what type of soil you have.

If you’re seeking out land for agricultural purposes—even if it’s just to grow plants or crops for your own enjoyment—then knowing what type of soil you’re going to be working with is crucial. Soil has huge implications for land use, and if you purchase a plot of land with soil that’s not amenable to your purposes, you could end up with a costly and time-consuming project that you hadn’t originally intended on.

Here’s what to know about the different types of soil, plus a few tips for figuring out which variety a property might have.

The 6 Main Types of Soil

The term “soil” refers to the loose, top layer of earth covering the planet’s surface. It’s formed from the breaking down of rock over hundreds of years, with large variations in soil variety depending on location and climate.

Here are the six most common types:

1. Sandy soil – This soil contains small particles that feel gritty to the touch. While it’s good for drainage, it’s not ideal for crop cultivation since it doesn’t hold on to moisture for long.

2. Clay soil – The densest type of soil, clay soil provides very little air space in between particles which can make it difficult for roots to flourish. However, it retains moisture quite well, so plants are certainly possible with drainage enhancements.

3. Silt soil – This soil contains even smaller particles than sand, but it holds on to water much better. It’s quite fertile, and is typically found by bodies of water like rivers and lakes.

4. Peat soil – An acidic soil that lacks in natural nutrients but is a pro at water retention. It can be good for plant growth, but requires the addition of drainage channels, pH balancing soil amendments, and rich organic matter.

5. Loam soil – Also known as “agricultural soil,” loam is a mix of sand, silt, and clay, and offers both high nutrient counts and strong water retention capabilities. It can get acidic however, so monitoring of pH levels is a must.

6. Chalk soil – This is a stonier soil that’s alkaline in nature—both of which can stand in the way of proper plant growth. Added fertilizer is recommended for balancing out the pH, as well as added humus for improved water retention capabilities.

What Type of Soil Do You Have

The type of soil that you have will affect what you can grow and how much work you’ll have to put into it.

It’s a good idea to find out what type of soil a plot has before investing, which can be done in a couple different ways:

• Reach out to a local soil expert
• Have soil testing performed

You may also be able to garner some information by visiting the USDA’s Natural Resources and Conservation Services website (when you’re there, go to “Map View” and enter the property’s address).

Depending on how serious you are about planting on your land, you may want to go all three routes. This will help ensure you’re making a sound investment—and that you’re not signing up for a much bigger project than you originally planned.

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The American Society of Farm Managers & Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA) has released their 2019 Mid-South Land Values and Lease Trends Report, and with it, a wealth of information that can help guide agricultural land purchases in regions across Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

So what is there to learn from the report? Here are four of the biggest takeaways.

#1: Quality Midsouth farmland continues to be limited

One of the biggest problems facing Midsouth agricultural land investors is that large-scale, quality plots — think 1,000 to 3,000 acres — have been hard to come by. Institutional investors have, for the most part, replaced individual investors and farmers in the purchase of investment-grade Midsouth farmland, notes W. Stacey Gillison, Current Midsouth Chapter President. This is due in part to the increased risk of land flipping driven by trade wars, rising interest rates, and stagnant land value levels. While it doesn’t mean that sales have come to a halt, it does mean that “the Delta flipping days are over,” Gillison says.

#2: The 2018 Farm Bill was good news for Midsouth farmland

The 2018 Farm Bill “could help insulate Midsouth farmland prices,” according to the report. This is thanks to a number of safety nets provided by the bill, including maintenance of the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs — both of which were holdovers from the 2014 Farm Bill. There are still some issues to contend with (most notably shifts in agricultural trade policy), but as the report states, “there are reasons to be optimistic that farmland valuations could hold firm in the year ahead.”

#3: In Arkansas? You may want to invest in grain land

Local and institutional investors in Arkansas — and in particular in Arkansas Region 2, which consist of the northeast counties in the state — are encouraged to invest in grain. That’s because, as the report notes, the poultry industry in the area is expanding, and with it, the need for grain feed. A “significant portion” of this grain is purchased locally,” the report says, which means big things ahead not just for the crop itself but the land that’s used to grow it.

#4: Timber is on the up and up, but not all Midsouth states are ready for it

In a piece included in the report titled “The Future of Forestry in the South,” Tedrick Ratcliff, executive vice president of the Mississippi Forestry Association, writes that there’s a growing need for mass timber production in the region due to increases in wood construction and advancements in wood-building technology. And while that’s good news for forest investors, some states have yet to rebound from the hit of the recession on their timber infrastructures — Mississippi in particular. That means issues meeting demand, but also opportunity for investors looking to get into the game.

Overall, the 2019 report had many messages of hope. Not much has changed in terms of land values and lease trends in the past year, and that’s actually a good thing — stagnancy is always preferable to declines, especially when it comes to agriculture. As the U.S. economy grows, so too should the agricultural sector, Gillison says. So what should investors do now? “Batten down the hatches,” he says, “and try to persevere through the trade negotiations.”

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