June Soil of the Month for Kansas: Harney

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For June’s installment of the soil of the month series, we chose the Harney soil series, which is the official state soil of Kansas. It became the state soil on April 12, 1990. Every state has selected a state soil and 20 of them have been established through an act of legislation, like the Harney. Official state soils have the same level of distinction as state flowers and birds. For any non-native Kansan readers, you can learn about your state soil here: https://bit.ly/2qFYjMq

Harney: The State Soil of Kansas

The Harney soil series is quintessential Kansas; formed under prairie vegetation, now commonly used for wheat production. Four million acres of Harney are mapped in west-central Kansas (Figure 1). As were the Colby and Ulysses series, Harney is derived from silty wind-deposited sediments called loess which was once dust in the wind (see below). The name “Harney” is derived from the word “harahey”, a Wichita Indian term for the Pawnee people.

Figure 1. Soil series extent map in Kansas for the Harney soil series. Map created using USDA-NRCS Official Soil Series Description website.

Kansas: Classic rock, classic soil

Either they were soil scientists, or by eerie coincidence, the band Kansas released an album in 1979 called Monolith and according to Wikipedia, “The album generated a Top 40 single in "People of the South Wind", whose title refers to the meaning of the 'Kanza' (Kaw) Native American people, after whom the state and the band are named.” Speaking of a south wind, “The most unwelcome winds of the state are the so-called ‘furnace winds’ that occur in prolonged heated periods. Usually from the south, and with shade temperatures from 100 to 116 degrees F or higher, these winds often have high velocities and cause great injury to growing crops” (Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station, 1942) and can wilt extension specialists.

A mollisol like no other

The Harney series has exceptional soil properties for growing crops, mainly wheat and grain sorghum. Like the Colby series featured in our first article this year, it’s a mollisol, meaning that it has several inches of dark topsoil formed through the accumulation of organic matter from the decay of prairie vegetation over several thousand years’ (Figures 2 and 3). All this organic matter makes the Harney a very fertile soil. Soil scientists can tell that the Harney soil is thousands of years old because of a clay bulge that is present in the B horizon, where clay has moved from the topsoil and accumulated in the subsoil. This also explains why the typical Harney soil has silt loam textures near the surface, silty clay loam textures in the B horizon (subsoil), and then silt loam texture again in the bottom of the soil profile. Having high organic matter content and silty textures are the best soil properties for storing water, and it does so at a tension that’s just right for plants to access—plus, these properties are also ideal for capturing precipitation when it does come. So often our precipitation is accompanied by high winds and when soil is left unprotected, the particles are easily lost as dust in the wind, of course.


Figure 2. Soil monolith of the Harney soil series. Photo by Kathy Gehl, K-State Research and Extension.

Figure 3. Photo of Harney silt loam, 1 to 3 % slopes, in Hodgeman County. Photo courtesy of the MLRA office in Hays, KS.

Stay tuned for more!

This mini-project to inform our readers of the many unique soils in our great state is in full swing. We have highlighted 6 soil series: Colby, Ulysses, Dwight, Pawnee, Quinlan, and now Harney. There are more Kansas soils left to discuss! See you in a few weeks!

Harney Official Series Description: https://soilseries.sc.egov.usda.gov/OSD_Docs/H/HARNEY.html
Kansas Historical Society: https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/harney-silt-loam/17238 
KAES pub, 1942:  https://www.ksre.k-state.edu/historicpublications/pubs/SB302.PDF




DeAnn Presley, Soil Management Specialist

Kathy Gehl, Soil Scientist and eUpdate Editor

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