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Prime farm land in Q-C abundant

ALEDO -- There's a difference in soil, and the Quad-Cities has its fair share of terra primus.

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Chuck Thomas

Corn breeder Peter Lynch puts bags over tassels of a corn stalk as he pollinated corn in the test field behind the Mycogen Seeds facility in Davenport last summer.

More than half the farm land in Mercer, Henry and Whiteside counties is considered prime. While Rock Island County's prime farmland totals are the lowest of the four -- in the 25 to 50 percent range -- they are not the lowest in the state. Counties in Southern Illinois hold that distinction.

There are about 250 different soil series in the four-county area, Steven Zwicker, resource soil scientist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Princeton said. Each series can be divided into slope, erosion and surface texture.

``Prime has to do with drainage, landscape position, water storage capabilities and fertility,'' Mr. Zwicker said. ``Farmers coming to this area saw the land had excellent natural fertility and texture.''

The texture of the soil makes it readily store moisture, Mr. Zwicker said. The soil also is youthful, because it's in part of the state that was under the Illinoian glacier which retreated ``not too long ago,'' based on a geological timeframe.

Coveted soils have names like Muscatine, Tama, Ipava and Sable, named for where they first were found. Although there may be similar soil types with the same chemical and structural features in other states, they won't have the same name, according to Mark Jackson, conservationist with the Mercer County Natural Resource Conservation Service.

The differences will be subtle, due mainly to how they were formed and what glacial period they were in, and what material they were formed under.

The forests, rivers and wide open spaces that attracted early settlers to the area are what helped form the rich farmland. Thick prairie grasses with roots that ran 5- to 6-feet-deep, proved the perfect foundation for the crops that would come later. Those same grasses, however, proved hard for early settlers to break through, until John Deere built the first self-scouring plow.

While there are differences, it's a simple fact that some soil is better for growing crops than others. Farmers with Muscatine soil can expect maximum yields under the right growing conditions, while a farmer with Seaton soil should seed it down permanently, Mr. Jackson said.

The amount of farmland, prime or not, is diminishing. Each year, more and more is being developed for commercial non-ag uses and for home sites. Although it is especially prevalent in the eastern part of the state, it also is happening locally, he said.

Over the last 20 years, Rock Island County has lost considerable acres along the Rock River to development, he said.

-- By Pam Berenger (February 2, 1998)

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