What is the Wisconsin state soil?

As you know, many states have a designated state bird, flower, fish, tree, rock, etc. And, many states also have a state soil – one that has significance or is important to the state. We’ve previously written about New Jersey’s state soil, Downer as well as California’s state soil, San Joaquin.

Wisconsin’s state soil is called Antigo Silt Loam. It even has its own song!

Thousands of years ago, glaciers spread across the Midwest. The last glacier formations to recede are called the Wisconsin Glaciation. When these glaciers melted, they left behind all the mineral debris they had picked up during their formation. This included sand and gravel. Later, silt and clay blew over the land creating soil that is now called Antigo Silt Loam.

map of Wisconsin showing ecological landscapes
Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin. Credit: WI Department of Natural Resources.

Uses of Antigo Silt Loam soils

In general, most soils can be used for agriculture (growing foods, raising animals, stables); engineering (roads, buildings, tunnels); ecology (wildlife habitat, wetlands), recreation (ball field, playground, camp areas) and more.

Most of the area covered with Antigo Silt Loam is used for crop production. To do this, original forests were cleared hundreds of years ago, but this also left nutrients in the soil that are good for farming. The principal crops are corn, small grains, and hay. In some places, potatoes and snap beans are important crops and some areas are grazed with animals.

Farmers manage their land by leaving residue from last year’s crop on the soil. They also use cover crops. They also plant rows of trees, called wind breaks. All these management practices help reduce erosion and keeps soil in place.

field of soil and long windbreak consisting of wall of trees, shrubs and small hill
Windbreaks block the wind from drying out fields and blow away lighter soil particles (silt). Credit: Mike Pennington (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0)

Other areas with Antigo Silt Loam are forested. The native vegetation is American basswood, sugar maple, yellow birch, white ash, big tooth aspen, quaking aspen, and black cherry.

Limitations

Antigo Silt Loam is a wonderful soil because it readily absorbs water – water that crops and trees need to grow! But its composition also makes it less likely to filter water as well as other soil types. This means pollutants can travel down through the soil and into the groundwater. It also limits the ability of homeowners to use septic tanks, as water filtering ability is very important to septic system’s success.

Antigo silt loam soil profile with several layers and depth labeled in feet
Antigo Silt Loam profile. Notice the darker brown soil at the top, rich in organic matter from original forests. Farmers use practices to keep this precious soil in place. Credit: USDA-NRCS

Where is Antigo Silt Loam found in Wisconsin?

Antigo Silt Loam can only be found around – Antigo, Wisconsin! This is located in the north-central part of the state. Antigo Silt Loam covers 300,000 acres of land in about thirteen Wisconsin counties, and some areas of neighboring Minnesota.

Fun fact

Wisconsin officially named Antigo Silt Loam the state soil in 1983. Francis D. Hole, a soil science professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, was instrumental in getting this legislation through.

map of Wisconsin showing where antigo silt loam soil is found, which is most of northwest Wisconsin
A map of Wisconsin showing where Antigo Silt Loam, the state soil, can be found (red). Antigo Silt Loam covers about 300,000 acres of north-central Wisconsin. Credit: Smithsonian

More about state soils

To download the entire Antigo Silt Loam – Wisconsin’s State Soil booklet, or to see any of the other state booklets, visit http://www.soils4teachers.org/state-soils

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