COVID-19 Questions?

Learn more about UW’s COVID response; email or call (608) 262-7777.

During this time, please contact us at

The soils of Wisconsin – Audio

The soils of Wisconsin - Audio

James Bockheim, Professor Emeritus
Department of Soil Science
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

3:05 – Total Time

0:16 – Snapshot of soils
0:54 – Unique soils
1:13 – Distinctions in Wisconsin Soils
1:43 – Why are we interested
2:28 – Soil science worldwide
2:55 – Lead out


Sevie Kenyon: Taking a look at the soils of Wisconsin, we’re visiting today with Jim Bockheim, Department of Soil Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon. Jim, Wisconsin has some very interesting soil types can you give us a quick snapshot?

James Bockheim: Yes, we have a soil classification system that divides soils into 12 broad orders. We have seven of those 12 broad orders present in the state and then the taxonomic system is sort of hierarchical and it breaks soils down into further categories and ultimately in the soils that can be mapped on the surface at a reasonable scale. And we have about 740 soil series in the state.

Sevie Kenyon: Jim, what makes the soils in Wisconsin different or unique?

James Bockheim: About 40 percent of the soils in the state are only found in Wisconsin, but 18 percent of the soils are unique from the stand point that they’re no other soils in the same family. They’re only found here and they’re just one of a kind.

Sevie Kenyon: What’s distinct about those one of a kind soils?

James Bockheim: They have responded to five soil forming factors, climate, organisms, relief or typography, nature of the parent material or the initial material, all operating over time and somehow those five factors have yielded a unique kind of soil in certain areas of the state.

Sevie Kenyon: Jim let’s rewind a little bit if we can, why are we interested in soils in the first place?

James Bockheim: We’re interested in soils worldwide, for a number of reasons, one, food production. Ninety five percent of the food stuffs that we use are produced from soil. The timber that we use to build our homes and ultimately even plastics come from wood products. Our iron ore and aluminum comes from weathered soil material. We’re buried in the soil. So, the soil plays an integral role in our lives. So, I think we need to really have a keen understanding of soils.

Sevie Kenyon: And where has soil science taken you in your lifetime?

James Bockheim: I’ve had the opportunity to do research in many parts of the world. I’ve worked with some wonderful people abroad. Spent a lot of my time in the polar regions in the Antarctic and arctic. I’ve worked extensively in South America, Russia, a number of other countries so it’s been very rewarding to see soils on different parts of the Earth’s surface in addition to those that are more or less in my backyard here in Wisconsin.

Sevie Kenyon:  We’ve been visiting with Jim Bockheim, Department of Soil Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.