Cory Jacob, Regional Crops Specialist
Watrous, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
Farmland is an important part of any farm operation and the quality of that farmland is equally important. One common mistake is that producers take into account the assessed value of the farmland to get an idea of the quality of the land. Unfortunately, there is more to land quality than that. Farmland quality is like an iceberg, the assessed value is only approximately 10% - 20% of what you see. A lot about soil quality and its properties lies below the topsoil.
The assessed value of farmland is not always a good indicator of land quality as this method takes into account many factors including: a climate rate, organic matter rate, soil texture rate, soil profile rate, soil profile adjustment factor, A-depth factor (depth of topsoil), physical factors such as flooding or salinity, economic factors such as topography, stones, slough, bush, distance to nearest elevator, a provincial factor, and is based on the number of land units.
I want to use an example of farmland that my father farmed, these two quarters, are kitty corner to each other. One quarter has an assessed value of $67,500 and the other $67,700, based solely on the land assessments; these quarters seem to be very similar. However, a deeper look at these quarters reveals large differences. I am going to give a quick rundown of each Saskatchewan Assessment Management Agency (SAMA) report for each quarter of land to show how they differ. One thing to note is that the soil reports on the SAMA website are free and simple to access to anyone.
The quarter of land with the $67,500 assessed value, based on the SAMA report has:
135 acres of the Weyburn soil association with a loam soil texture. The primary soil profile is an Orthic Chernozem with the C horizon or parent material 9 – 12” below the soil surface. The secondary soil profile is a Calcareous Chernozem, meaning a fair amount of carbonates in the underlying parent material, with the C horizon 7-9” below the soil surface. The topsoil depth shows ER10, meaning that 10-25% of the area of the upper slopes (hill tops) are moderately eroded, which makes sense as my father liked to summerfallow. The topography of those 135 acres is rated at a 3, meaning moderate slopes of 6-9% and a stone rating of 2, meaning slight amounts of stone that would have an annual removal of 0.1-0.15 cubic yards/acre. There is also a 2% yield reduction to being very slightly saline. The final soil rating is 47.19. There are also 10 acres of waste slough, bush and some cultivated slough. There are 15 remaining acres, which are given a 35% yield reduction for very strong salinity, which will limit crops grown in that area or severely hurt yield and drops the final soil rating to 35.51.
The quarter with the $67,700 assessed value, based on the SAMA report has 100 acres of a primary Weyburn soil association with a loam to clay loam soil texture. The soil profile is a calcareous Chernozem with the parent material 7-9” below the soil surface. The secondary soil association is an Oxbow soil association with a loam to clay loam soil texture. The soil profile is an orthic Chernozem, with the C horizon 12” or more below the soil surface. The topsoil has an ER10 designation and is 4-6” deep in certain areas. The topography is a 2, meaning gentle slopes of 3-5% and a stone rating of 3 meaning, moderate stones with 0.2-0.25 cubic yards/acre of annual stone removal. The final soil rating is 53.36.
There are 23 acres with the same soil association, texture, profile and stone rating as the 100 acres, but have only the ER 10 designation for erosion and are rated a 3 for topography, meaning 6-9% moderate slopes. Final soil rating is 49.82. There are 27 acres of waste slough. The remaining 10 acres are moderately eluviated, meaning movement of the salts, clay, and organic matter downward in the soil, the C horizon is 9-12” below the soil surface with a topsoil depth of 4-6”. These 10 acres is pretty flat with 0-2.5% slopes, but a stone rating of 3. The main reducing factor is a 25% reduction due to it being strongly saline. Final soil rating is 42.14.
I have provided a quick overview of the SAMA report of each quarter of land. Now I want you to think and choose which of these two quarters is better or which of the two, would you buy if you had the chance. My answer is the quarter with the assessed value of $67,700, not because the assessment is $200 more, but it is better quality soil. My quarter of choice has a loam to clay loam soil texture, which is better than a straight loam texture, due to increased organic matter, moisture holding capacity and nutrient capacity. This soil also has an Oxbow soil association to it, meaning black soil zone, though it is the secondary soil association. This means, typically more moisture, organic matter and thicker top soil as compared to the Weyburn soil association, which is located in the dark-brown soil zone.
An argument can be made against the quarter that I have chosen as it has less farmable acres on it and the final soil rating is approximately 6 points higher for final soil rating than the other quarter. At the end of the day, a person needs to make a choice for themselves. I also talked to my father about this and he said that he could always produce better crops off of the quarter with the $67,700 assessed value. I have just shown why he was able to.
For more information on this topic please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 306 – 946 - 3216.
Cory Jacob, Regional Crops Specialist