The US Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is recognizing Maynard Koppen of Fort Dodge as the first soil scientist to map more than one-million acres of land in Iowa.
Mike Sucik, Iowa NRCS state soil scientist, made the announcement in Des Moines.
"Maynard Koppen served our agency and the people of Iowa as a soil scientist from 1951 to 1979. He visited thousands of farms in the state systematically cataloging and mapping each of the hundreds of Iowa soils found in each county. He mapped an amazing one-million acres of Iowa land and his work serves to this day as a predictor of soil behavior for many land uses. Farmers, planners, developers, home buyers and builders routinely use Maynard Koppen's work to plan land use, corn and crop suitability, select sites for construction and determine land values," said Sucik.
NRCS is in the process of recognizing million-acre soil scientists across the nation for their contributions to effective land use. Koppen is the first Iowan recognized by NRCS.
Koppen joined the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) (now NRCS) as a soil scientist after graduating with an agronomy degree from Iowa State University. He said his job was to visit Iowa farms and methodically walk, dig and probe the soil to learn what was underneath. He took soil samples, compared what he found to aerial photos and mapped the soils and land features.
Koppen said he usually worked alone, mapping an average of 480 acres a day or 40,000 acres per year.
Sucik said it takes years to map an average-sized county, and a team of soil scientists and technicians nearly five years to put their work into a soil survey.
Records show Koppen worked in half the counties in Iowa and he authored seven soil surveys while at NRCS. He completed the 459,520-acre Webster County soil survey just before retiring.
The Lakota native retired from NRCS 30 years ago, but he says he misses his soils work. "I can still look at a farm and remember. I didn't pay attention to what was grown on the land then, but I can still put together a soil map of that farm in my mind. I can remember soil and I know what to call it," said Koppen.As if to prove his point, during a recent visit to the Fort Dodge NRCS soils office he looked into a soil-filled Styrofoam cup. "That's angular blocky structured soil," he said. Then he proceeded to rattle off the locations of five areas in Webster County where soil particles form a cube shaped aggregate like the ones in the cup.
Iowa NRCS employs 12 soil scientists in the state. "Soils don't change much from year to year, but our need for more detailed soils information has changed. We continue our soils work in Iowa. Much of it is based on Maynard Koppen's original work," said Sucik. "We are all grateful to follow in his footsteps."