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Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS1189  |  September 2013

Why Do I Need a Farm Map? How to Prepare a Usable Map for Your Farm

Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS1189  |  September 2013

  • Michael Westendorf, Extension Specialist in Livestock and Dairy

Many landowners are looking to improve their farms or are interested in maximizing their land's potential. This requires careful planning and one of the first things a farmer should do is develop a useful map of their land. A farm map will identify 1.) areas on the farm that are vulnerable to water contamination (sensitive areas such as streams, wetlands, waterways, or any other place where water coming from the livestock operation or barnyard comes into contact with clean water), and 2.) practices that may contribute to water pollution (such as not having a proper manure storage or spreading manure too close to a stream or wetland). This base map of the farm should show all farm fields, the farmstead and barnyard area, related use areas, and areas such as wetlands and forested land.

Another value of a farm map is for future planning or changes that farmers intend to make and for others (Cooperative Extension, NRCS, consultants) to help them to best utilize their property for the intended use.

A farm map can also help identify soil types and other characteristics, such as slope, that can be helpful in making management decisions like grazing plans and crop rotations. A map can be helpful when selecting compost or manure storage areas. Finally, a farm map can play an important role in emergency planning. In the case of an emergency manure spill, a map can help identify sensitive bodies of water or wells that might be affected. In case of a fire, a map can identify where fuel and chemicals are stored or where grain and hay may be stockpiled.

It will be helpful for you to draw a map of your farm that includes barnyard sketches for buildings, storages, fences, fields, streams, waterways, wetlands, etc. Include fields that animals use for exercise or grazing and/or wherever manure is spread. A boundary survey, as described in a deed, determines the property lines of a parcel of land and may be a good starting point. This will indicate the extent of any easements or encroachments and may show the limitations imposed on the property by state or local regulations. Aerial photography and soils information can be downloaded using the sites listed below; you may also wish to contact your local Soil Conservation District or Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office who may be able to help you with land, topographic or soils information.

A farm map will identify areas where manure-contaminated runoff water from the livestock operation, barnyard, or manure storage comes into contact with clean water. The map may also reveal if manure is spread too close to a stream or wetland. A map can also help identify soil types and characteristics helpful in making management decisions about grassland management and crop rotations. A farm map is also valuable for future farm planning.

Depending on your need, you may want to indicate some or all of the following items on your farm map:

  • Buildings
  • Storages
  • Streams
  • Wetlands
  • Waterways
  • Field Sketches
  • Exercise areas or lots
  • Driveways
  • Pens
  • Fences
  • Wells
  • Underground utilities
  • Known survey markers
  • Sinkholes
  • Underground pipe whether tile or other
  • Septic systems
  • A north arrow

This base map of the farm should show all farm fields, the farmstead and barnyard area, related use areas, and areas such as wetlands and forested land.

For more information, please see Developing a Farm Map (http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8062.pdf) and Maps for Nutrient Management Planning (http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubs/PDF/B1195.pdf).

For those with some Internet experience, aerial photos and some basic maps can be downloaded from free or affordable public sites.

  1. Google Earth can be downloaded at http://www.google.com/earth. "Surf" into your area or input an address. You can swap between a map view and satellite image. It may be easier to use google maps and select the satellite view.
  2. Missouri Clipper: http://projects.cares.missouri.edu/snmp/nrcsdata/aoilist.asp.
  3. You can find soil survey information online: Web Soil Survey http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app. This site is operated by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and provides soil maps and data for more than 95 percent of the nation's counties. Both a USGS topographic map and aerial photo will be offered.
  4. U.S. Geological Survey: http://www.usgs.gov. From the home page, use the "map" function to search for the property in question by address. If available, both a USGS topographic map and aerial photo will be offered.
  5. Terra Server: http://www.terraserver.com. Customers gain access to a drawing and measuring tool that allows you to measure surface distance and area on aerial & satellite images.

  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station