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Profile of Ontrario County Soils

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ontario County will help you with a soil test for your new farm. After all, your soil will be one of the most important factors in the success of your farm. Know your soil! Call us at 585-394-3977 for more information or e-mail.

Ontario County has been endowed with some of the best farmland in the world.

Approximately 76% (311,900 acres) of the County has Important Farmland Soil, as classified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources
Conservation Service (NRCS).

Three farmland categories are included in the Important Farmland Soil classification—Prime Farmland, Unique Farmland, and Farmland of Statewide Importance.

Prime Farmland exhibits the best combinations of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, forage, fiber and oilseed crops. Prime farmland soils have the soil quality, growing season, and moisture supply necessary to economically produce sustained high yields of crops. In general, the characteristics of these soils include adequate moisture and drainage, adequate soil depth and texture, are not susceptible to erosion or flooding, and sustain high yield production with minimal fertilizer and energy requirements. Approximately 50% of Ontario County’s land base is classified as prime farmland.

Unique farmland produces high yields of specialty crops such as fruits and vegetables. It is characterized by good soil quality, location, topography, growing season, and moisture. Once converted to other uses, unique farmland cannot be economically restored to previous conditions.

Farmland of Statewide Importance produces fair to good yields of crops when managed according to sound agricultural practices. These farmlands are important to the state for production of food, feed, fiber, forage and oilseed crops.

Although only 8% of the world’s soils are considered prime or unique farmland soils, about 51% of Ontario County’s land is classified as prime or unique (Eswaran et al 1999; USDA 1978). To compare to statewide statistics, approximately 15% of New York hosts prime or unique agricultural soils (Wagner 2000).

Soil formation and characteristics: The soil resources of Ontario County were formed through the interaction of climate, living organisms, parent material (bedrock), time, and topography. The importance of any one of these five factors can vary greatly from place to place, resulting in different soil qualities. The differences in Ontario County soils are attributed mainly to topography, and to a lesser degree, parent material. The parent materials in Ontario County primarily include sandstone, limestone, and shale. In terms of topography, 65% of soil surfaces in Ontario County are level and/or gently sloping; another 20% are sloping but not steep. Over 50% of the soil in the County is rated as having good to better drainage, with another 30% being moderately good.

Generally, a progressive decrease in lime content occurs from north to south in Ontario County soils. The northern part of the County is characterized by high-lime soils where, over the years, lime has leached to depths as great as three feet. These soils, characterized by Honeoye and Palmyra soil types, are highly productive for food production and have a nearly neutral pH. At depths of three to four feet, a layer of clay restricts water movement downward, thereby helping to make moisture available for plant uptake.

Moving south, the parent materials are relatively low in lime, because it has leached in excess of four feet below the surface. At depths of two to three feet, these soils typically contain a densely packed clayey layer that restricts or prevents the downward movement of water. Typically the soils are medium textured and acidic. In the areas south of Honeoye Lake, and south and west of Canandaigua Lake, often referred to as the Allegheny Plateau, the soils are predominately weathered and strongly acidic. The soils range from the well-drained Bath series to the poorly drained Volusia soils. Soils that are cultivated, however, generally do respond well to nutrient management.

This site brought to you by The Ontario County Agricultural Enhancement Board In cooperation with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ontario County, the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection, and Ontario County Department of Planning. Canandaigua, New York 14424
585-396-4455 or 585-394-3977.