State Soil of Virginia

Pamunkey soil series pictured above.

THE PAMUNKEY SOIL SERIESIn 1999 the National Cooperative Soil Survey Program will have been in existence for 100 year. During the last 100 years, soils information has played a vital role in issues such as land-use planning, erosion control, increased crop yields, and protection of the environment and natural resources. Without soil, life as we know it could not exist! Without soil we could not grow crops to eat or feed livestock, grow lumber to build houses, play in sand at the beach, use soils to filter and dispose of our pollutants (drainfields, landfill), and the list continues.The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has asked that each state adopt, through legislation, a “State Soil.” This is one way the public will recognize the significance of soil in our lives. NRCS asked the Virginia Association of Professional Soil Scientists (VAPSS) to select a soil for Virginia. While Pamunkey has not been officially recognized by the legislature as the state soil, it is the soil that has been proposed.

Why Adopt a State Soil? In recognition of the 100 years that the Soil Survey program has provided valuable information necessary for planning growth and for protection of our natural resources and environment, each state in the Nation is adopting a “State Soil”. Soil is a basic resource that we rely on for most of our food, fiber and national economy.Fourteen other states have already adopted a State Soil by legislation or proclamation. There are twenty more including Virginia currently in the process of adopting a State Soil. Several years ago, Governor Allen tried to adopt Pamunkey as the State Soil by proclamation and found that it could not be accomplished using that means.In selecting a “State Soil” for Virginia, we were faced with dilemmas that many other states would not be faced with. Virginia covers some 450 miles along its southern boundary, five Physiographic Provinces and nine Major Land Resource Areas. With this kind of diversity in the state, it is hard to select a soil which represents the state as a whole.Fortunately, Virginia is also blessed with rivers whose watersheds cover each Physiographic Province as well as a history that is older than our Country. The James River crosses the entire State and brings sediments from each of the provinces it flows through. These sediments are deposited on flood plains and on deltas along its course to later form Pamunkey soils on low stream terraces.This soil, originally mapped as Wickham soil series, was first recognized in Hanover County. Chemical laboratory data revealed that the base saturation (natural fertility) was greater in these soils than is allowed in the Wickham series. The soil was named Pamunkey, the name chosen for a nearby river, which in turn was named for the Pamunkey Indian Nation that lives along the river.The Pamunkey soils were first used to sustain the Pamunkey Indians, and many other tribes, and later to grow crops by the settlers at Jamestown. The high natural fertility and high crop yields associated with these soils may be one reason that the Jamestown settlement survived. Pamunkey soils are prime agriculture soils in Virginia. Extensive areas of Pamunkey soils have been mapped in Hanover, Chesterfield, New Kent, Charles City, Surry, Henrico, James City, York, and other Tidewater counties.A soil profile of the Pamunkey soil, to be presented to the General Assembly, was taken from a soil pit which VAPSS members excavated under supervision of the National Park Service on Jamestown Island.

Facts about Pamunkey Soil Pamunkey soil is formed from sediments which originated in every physiographic province in the Commonwealth and therefore represents the WHOLE state better than most other soils.The farm where the representative profile of Pamunkey soil was excavated, near Jamestown, is the oldest continuously worked farm in the United States. In spite of encroaching development, this historic farm has been put into a conservancy program for the use of agriculture by the County of James City.The Pamunkey soil, on this oldest working farm in America, produced the world corn yield (308 bushels/acre) and the world record wheat yield (140 bushels/acre) in 2000.The first settlers at Jamestown grew their crops on Pamunkey soil which may be the very reason they survived. Prior to Jamestown being settled the River Indian Tribes, including the Pamunkey Tribe, recognized the high natural fertility of this soil. Its very likely Pocahontas saved Capt. John Smith’s life on this soil.

Soil Classification for Pamunkey Soil Pamunkey soils are  very deep, well drained soils formed in Piedmont and Coastal Plain fluvial sediments. They are on nearly level to sloping stream terraces. Slopes range from 0 to 15 percent. Mean annual precipitation is about 48 inches, and mean annual temperature is about 59 degrees F.  Pamunkey soils typically have a sandy loam surface layer and a sandy clay loam subsoil underlain by sandy and loamy substrata.Soil Classification: fine-loamy, mixed, semiactive, thermic Ultic Hapludalfs

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