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Soil orders and suborders in Minnesota

Many environmental and agricultural decisions in Minnesota are based on soil and what it’s capable of supporting. For example, the fertile soils and favorable climate of south-central Minnesota support productive agriculture. The productivity of Minnesota's forests also depends on soil properties, but these soils are very different from the ones that support crops.

When producers understand the soil they’re working with, they can make better decisions about cropping systems and fertilizer and water management.

Soil orders and suborders

All soils are arranged into one of 12 major units, or soil orders, seven of which are in Minnesota. A soil order’s location mainly depends on climate and organisms, with the exception of the orders Vertisol, Andisol and Histosol, which depend on parent material.

Orders can be further broken down into suborders, great groups, subgroups, families, and series. Suborders are separated on the basis of important soil properties that influence soil development and plant growth (Figure 1). How wet the soil is throughout the year is the most important property.

Soil suborders of Minnesota
Figure 1: Soil suborders of Minnesota. While a map of this scale can’t represent all of soil’s intricate patterns, it does indicate the major soil areas and their characteristics.
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Table 1 shows estimated area and the percent of the state it occupies.

Table 1: How much of Minnesota each soil order and suborder occupies

Order Suborder Minnesota area in acres Percent of state
Alfisols -- 16,069,00 27.4%
Aqualfs 2,943,000 5.1%
Udalfs 13,126,000 22.3%
Inceptisols -- 5,512,000 9.4%
Aquepts 40,000 0.1%
Udepts 5,472,000 9.3%
Entisols -- 10,729,000 18.4%
Aquents 1,465,000 2.4%
Orthents 5,470,000 9.4%
Psamments 3,794,000 6.6%
Mollisols -- 18,880,000 32.1%
Aquolls 13,973,000 23.8%
Udolls 4,655,000 7.9%
Ustolls 252,000 .04%
Histosols -- 3,130,000 5.3%
Hemists 3,130,000 5.3%
Vertisols Aquerts 784,000 1.2%
Spodosols Orthods 122,000 0.2%
Lakes -- 2,836,000 4.9%
Total -- 58,062,000 100.0%

Soil series

The lowest level and the one most recognized by producers is the soil series. Soils in an individual series are nearly homogeneous and their range of properties is limited.

Soil series are separated by observable and mappable properties such as color, structure, texture, and horizon arrangement. They’re named for the location where the soil was first identified.

The series is the level that’s generally used to name mapping units of detailed soil surveys completed at scales between 1:24,000 and 1:15,840 (1 inch on the map is equal to between 24,000 and 15,840 inches, or 2,000 to 1,320 feet, in the real world). There are 20,000 soil series recognized in the United States and more than 1,000 in Minnesota.

James Anderson, wheat breeder, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS); Jay Bell, soil scientist, CFANS; Terry Cooper, emeritus soil scientist, CFANS and Dave Grigal, emeritus soil scientist

Acknowledgements

Content is based on the observations and ideas of soil scientists from Minnesota both past and present, including scientists from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the University of Minnesota. Without their contributions, this content wouldn’t be possible. Special thanks to J.F. Cummins for initially collecting and summarizing the data.

Reviewed in 2018

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