The Newfoundland landscape can be best described as a mixture of bogs, barrens, rock outcrops, water bodies and mineral soil. Much of the interior of the island portion of the province is covered by extensive bogs and barren lands. These sparsely forested heath and moss barrens result from wind exposure, humid conditions, temperature limitations and soil conditions. The soils found on these upland barrens are very coarse, usually very stony, have firm to compact subsoils and are often quite shallow.
The boreal forest which surrounds these interior barrens is characterized by dominantly coniferous species and broad leaved deciduous trees. This natural vegetation is often indicative of deeper soils that may be suitable for agricultural use. The more favorable soils and better climatic conditions for agriculture are usually found on elevated ridges, along river terraces and on coastal lowlands.
Newfoundland soils are very acid and the dominant soil limitation to crop growth is low fertility. The soils require regular applications of lime and fertilizers to supplement elements necessary for plant growth. Numerous other soil limitations also hinder the development of land for agricultural use. Limitations such as excessive stoniness create additional management problems and cost for land clearing.
Wet soils require drainage improvements and add to the cost of putting land into production. Soils with compact subsoil layers resist penetration of plant roots and percolation of rainfall, leading to shallow rooting of crops and excessive moisture in the soil. Topography also restricts the use of land for agriculture. Steep slopes and complex topography often prevent use of farm machinery and create erosion hazards. However, soil conditions do vary quite rapidly across the landscape and some areas are better suited to agriculture than others.
Knowledge of the distribution of various soil types and land distribution patterns is needed to channel agricultural activities into the most suitable areas. Soil surveys are required in order to provide adequate resource information for good land use and land management planning. They provide farmers with information on soil and land types that will help them manage their operations more efficiently. Decisions that must be made on amendment applications, planting and harvesting times, crop types and machinery requirements are related to soil conditions.
During the course of a soil survey, the soil surveyors make numerous observations and descriptions in preparation for the compilation of the final map and report. Soil types are established according to specific characteristics. Each soil type in its particular environment has an expected response to crop suitability, soil management or engineering uses. Soil maps and technical grouping of soil types, therefore, become very important in classifying land and selecting suitable types of land use. Good soil survey interpretations will help the soil map user in evaluating the land for various purposes and serve as a very succinct educational tool.
Soil survey provides information on the province’s soil resources to the farming community, the general public and the Branch. The principal activity is the characterization of soils, soil properties and soil suitability for agriculture and the spatial representation of the information by mapping. The information is instrumental in outlining potential agricultural areas, the development, planning and management of Agricultural Development Areas, and the expansion of the productive land base of individual farms. The program also provides technical advice to the farming community and agricultural staff on the adaptability of soils for various crops, their behaviors under use or treatment for plant production of for other purposes, such as waste disposal, their productivity under different management systems, and their susceptibility to soil degradation processes.
The Soils and Mapping Services Section currently houses three levels of soils data – each level represents a different intensity of data collection. As such, the soil survey program has been tailored to coincide with the needs and priorities of the agricultural land and farm development. The three levels are Exploratory, Reconnaissance and Detailed. Each type of survey identifies in a general way the accuracy of a survey and the overall purpose of the survey.
An Exploratory Soil Survey has a low survey intensity level and is designed to offer information for broad regional planning. The Newfoundland Exploratory Soil Survey Program ended in the mid 1990’s and provided the basis for the Canada Land Inventory (C.L.I.) Soil Capability Mapping. This type of survey is a very rapid type of survey that provides critical data necessary for planning and setting of long term agriculture priorities. Exploratory surveys give an overview as to the scope of problems involved in future agricultural development and lay the groundwork for ensuring land suitability and productivity studies.
Exploratory type maps are used by the Agriculture Branch Land Use Section to set up broad boundaries for Agriculture Development Areas. These surveys give an estimate of the location, extent and quality of the land throughout the Island, thereby enabling agricultural planners to direct activities into the most viable areas. The survey maps also provide information for other interested groups such as foresters, engineers, park planners and wildlife officers.
Reconnaissance soil surveys are of an intermediate intensity level and provide more information and interpretations than that gathered in exploratory work. A reconnaissance type of survey is designed to provide information for planning agricultural activities within Agricultural Development Areas and identifying areas for farm expansion and establishment of new farms.
Reconnaissance soil mapping is usually based on land capability information derived from exploratory mapping and priorities of the Branch. Various parts of the Newfoundland Reconnaissance Program, have, however, been completed over the years without prior exploratory level information collection because of the immediate need for more precise information in some high priority agriculture areas.
Information gathered at this survey level is used to formulate development plans within designated Agricultural Development Areas. The types and locations of agricultural enterprises together with the planning of compatible infrastructure, industry and residential development are also based on this soil survey program. Reconnaissance type surveys give major emphasis to physical attributes of the land and soil such as slopes, drainage, texture, and stoniness. They do not provide a great amount of detail on such features as soil productivity, fertilizer response or soil conservation.
The third level of soil surveys are the Detailed Soil Surveys which is soils mapping at a 1:12,500 scale. It is characterized by a higher survey intensity level and deals with specific land management problems. These surveys are more time consuming and are usually done over smaller areas; they supply information for many purposes at the level of groups of farms down to the level of small farms.
Detailed soil surveys are usually carried out in prime farming areas to provide information for increasing productivity and improving land management or to locate suitable land for farm expansion. Surveys at the highest survey intensity level give information on slope, drainage, texture and stoniness and interpretations relating to specific crops.
Open file data, where available, can be requested by contacting the Manager of Soils and Mapping Services.
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