top of page

FAQ: Land Capability Classification

photo of a garden with hands holding a basket of vegetables with text overlay 'FAQ: Land Capability classification'

For farmers and ranchers, understanding the soil is crucial for effective land use. After all, why waste time and resources planting crops in an area where they won't thrive? So, how can you analyze and truly understand your soil? By familiarizing yourself with land capability classification, you can elevate your land management practices to new heights, ensuring optimal utilization of your property's resources.

What Is The Land Capability Classification System?

The land capability classification system was developed in 1939 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is a tool used to evaluate the potential of land for different uses, such as agriculture, forestry, and urban development. Essentially, LCC can help determine if land is suitable for certain uses and whether there are risks for degradation. It takes into account various factors such as soil properties, topography, and climate to determine the suitability of the land for specific purposes.

What are the LCC Classes?

The land capability classification system categorizes land into eight classes. Classes I-IV are suitable for crop cultivation, with increasing limitations and conservation measures as the classes progress. Classes V-VIII indicate land unsuitable for crops, but still usable for pasture, range, woodland, grazing, wildlife, recreation, and aesthetics. Each class incorporates multiple soil types.

Factors like location, slope, depth, texture, and pH help determine the appropriate class for an area. These assessments identify erosion hazards, susceptibility to severe climate conditions, moisture capacity, presence of stones, nutrient retention capabilities, and more.

  • Class I: These soils can have slight restrictions that limit their use.

  • Class II: These soils have moderate restrictions that limit plant choice or necessitate moderate conservation practices.

  • Class III: These soils have severe limitations that restrict plant choice, require special conservation practices, or both.

  • Class IV: These soils have severe limitations that reduce plant choice, require very careful management, or both.

  • Class V: These soils have little to no risk of erosion, but are impractical to remove and have other limitations (such as frequent flooding), restricting their use to pasture, rangeland, forestland, or wildlife habitat.

  • Class VI: These soils have severe limitations that make them unsuitable for cultivation and limit their use mainly to pasture, rangeland, forestland, or wildlife habitat.

  • Class VII: These soils have very severe limitations that make them unsuitable for cultivation and limit their use mainly to pasture, rangeland, forestland, or wildlife habitat.

  • Class VIII: These soils have such severe limitations they cannot be used for commercial plant production, also restricting their use to recreation, wildlife habitat, water supply, or aesthetic purposes.

What are the LCC Subclasses?

Land capability subclasses are specific soil groups categorized within a broader class. Each land capability classification encompasses four subclasses, grouping together areas that share similar limitations on agricultural utilization as a result of soil and climate. It is worth noting that Class I soils, which possess minimal or no limitations, do not have subclasses and are fully capable of supporting crop growth.

Capability subclasses are designated by adding a lowercase letter (e, w, s, or c) to the class numeral, for example, 'Class IIe.'

  • Subclass e: Subclass e (erosion) includes soils where past erosion or the potential for erosion is the dominant concern.

  • Subclass w: Subclass w (excess water) includes soils where excess water is the main issue, limiting their ability to produce crops. This could be caused by poor soil drainage, wetness, a high water table, or overflow. In some cases, the excess water can be controlled with artificial drainages, such as irrigation systems.

  • Subclass s: Subclass s (soil limitations within the rooting zone) includes soils in which the primary limiting factor is an issue with the rooting zone, the depth of soil that crops can extract nutrients and water from. This includes low-moisture holding capacity, low fertility, and salinity.

  • Subclass c: Subclass c (climatic limitation) includes soils where the climate is the only major hazard limiting crop production potential. This includes soils in very cold and dry areas.

Why is the LCC important?

The LCC is essential for farmers and ranchers as it serves as a guide to land use planning, conservation practices, and farm management decisions. By understanding the limitations of their soil, agriculturalists can make informed decisions about which crops to grow and what steps are necessary to prevent soil degradation. Additionally, the LCC helps identify potential areas for expansion or development while also highlighting areas that should be conserved for wildlife or recreational purposes.

For land realtors, developers, and urban planners, the LCC provides valuable information about the suitability of an area for different types of development. It also highlights potential risks or limitations that may impact construction plans. Similarly, when it comes to realtors or landowners marketing land for sale or for lease, a thorough understanding of the soil properties on a parcel of land can ensure that the marketing efforts align with the target buyer.

Learn More About Land With LandApp

By understanding and learning the land capability classification of your property, you will gain valuable insights that will enable you to optimize the utilization of your resources in a more efficient and effective manner. This knowledge will empower you to make informed decisions and implement strategies that align with the specific capabilities and potential of a property, ultimately leading to enhanced productivity and sustainability.

LandGate's LandApp tool and free property reports for landowners offer extensive soil data with the click of a button:


bottom of page