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Soils and Agriculture

Productive soils are a fundamental component of Appalachian landscapes, supporting a wide variety of ecosystem services—including agriculture and silviculture, hydrological regulation, carbon storage, and fish and wildlife habitat, to name a few. The capacity of soils to support particular land uses or provide ecological benefits varies among soil types, and the Appalachian region is quite diverse in this regard. As USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) soils data show, the northern, southern, and western portions of the Appalachian LCC are dominated by different major soil types. Regions dominated by agriculture and forested land are readily distinguished by examining these variations in soils. Variations in soil properties also interact with varying land uses and with topography to determine risks such as landslides, as illustrated by landslide susceptibility data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Agricultural productivity is undoubtedly the most visible and profound direct human benefit provided by a region’s soils. The Appalachian LCC, despite its name, includes vast agricultural landscapes in the lower Midwest, in addition to the more fragmented farmland and grazing lands in large valleys throughout Appalachia. The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), and the USDA Census of Agriculture (completed every five years, most recently in 2012), are primary sources of regionally detailed data concerning the productivity, economics, land use, and multiple other characteristics of agriculture and ranching in the United States. The county-level data on farmland irrigation shown here provides one example of the many ways in which agriculture impacts, and is impacted by, natural resource availability and sustainability.

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Last modified: 
10/06/2015 - 21:05