soil

Virginia farmers aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. The state’s rich soil is one reason why.

Farms cover nearly 32 percent of Virginia’s total land area. Some of those farms are fortunate to be home to Pamunkey soil, one of the richest and oldest soils in the country.

This soil is formed in the basin of the James River. Because the river crosses the entire state, it carries sediments from each of the provinces it flows through. These sediments are deposited on flood plains and deltas, eventually forming Pamunkey soils.

Since the soil can be traced to the sediments of all areas across the Commonwealth, it was an obvious choice to select it as the state soil. The selection is part of an effort by the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service to help the public understand the vital role that soil plays in increased crop yields, erosion control and protection of the environment and natural resources. Healthy soil equates to greater productivity. In order to feed the world in 2050, farmers must increase productivity by 70 percent to yield more return with less inputs.

While Pamunkey soil represents the entirety of the state, it has its roots near Jamestown. In fact, the first settlers grew their crops on Pamunkey soil and likely survived because the rich ground produced such high crop yields. Prior to the settling of Jamestown, the Native American river tribes, including the Pamunkey tribe for whom the soil is named, recognized the high natural fertility of this soil.

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Hundreds of years later, Pamunkey soil continues its rich reputation. Just over a decade ago, the Jamestown-area farm where the Pamunkey soils were first identified produced record yields of corn and wheat. Today, there are extensive areas of Pamunkey soils in Hanover, Chesterfield, New Kent, Charles City, Surry, Henrico, James City, York, and other Tidewater counties.

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