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How to find a legal description for a farm without knowing the township, range and section
Point and Shoot to Build a legal description
Sometimes, you want to locate a rough legal description for a farm that you know where it is located on the map, but don’t know how to describe it using the Township, Range, Section and Meridian for the property. Maybe an attorney is asking for it, or you want to order a title report, describe in a will or estate docs, or just to compare to a legal description in a document that was handed to you.
Just follow these simple steps in Farmapper to locate a legal description for any farm:
1) Navigate your area of interest on the map by zooming in or out, and panning by clicking and dragging the map.
2) Once you find the farm that you are interested in, click on the location for the farm.
3) Once you clicked, Farmapper will pull the polygon shape as a legal description.
Farmapper allow a user to overlay a grid of the township, range and section allowing a user to come up with a rough legal description for a property on the map view.
Brief Overview of the Public Land Survey System (PLSS)
From the largest to smallest PLSS conversions are as follows for a typical rectangular grid.
Each Quadrangle is generally 24 x 24 miles, or 576 square miles, or 16 Townships
Each Township is generally 6 x 6 miles, or 36 square miles, or 36 Sections
Each Section is generally 1 x 1 miles, or 1 square mile, or 640 acres
Meridians and baselines are the lines that mark the borders of each township, range and section. These lines were originally laid out as part of the PLSS. In the early days of farming, these were used as the primary method of finding and describing property since most of the country was unsettled, there weren’t roads, addresses or tax assessor numbers.
The system of township, range and section is still in use today and is the legal description used for deeds and to provide the discrete description of property in title documents and often leases and other agreements.
While the PLSS system may seem confusing at first, it is actually quite simple once you understand it.
Here is a quick rundown of how it works:
Townships are always 6 miles square and are numbered according to their position north or south of the baseline.
Ranges are always 6 miles square and are numbered according to their position east or west of the principal
Find the Township, Range and Section for a Farm on the map
In order to have the Section grid overlay, we need to have a Farmapper account and be logged in. We go to www.farmapper.com and open the web application by clicking on “Go to the App”, then click on the Login with social account. This allows the saving of your Farmapper projects for use later and is free under the Free tier.
Once logged in, the map view should first try to geolocate based on the user and then (if available) the section grid will appear once the user zooms into the map view. We are looking to locate the legal description for a farm near Kearney, Nebraska that we want our banker to be able to get an appraisal started on, but we don’t have the legal description handy. We type Kearney into the “Find on Map” search field the magnifying glass.
Kearney is located in Buffalo County, Nebraska. Once we zoom in to Kearney we see the city and a road network as well as the section grid. The section grid is a good indication that we have zoomed in enough to start seeing individual parcels that we can select to display their legal description.
We find the farm that we are interested in and we can start building our farm shape as easy as clicking within the boundaries. Farmapper searches its database and locates the shapes that are contained within that point. (Pro Tip - This works with BLM Grazing, Tax Assessor and more in a similar fashion).
Translate to the Rough Legal
We know the farm is approximately 5 miles east of Kearney airport, so we use the map to move over to the farm and zoom in to see up close the grid.
The township that the farm is in is T9N, R14W.
The farm is all in section 26
We can see that the farm is in the 6th principal meridian, which is the one that covers most of Nebraska.
We simply click on the farm and located the Quarter Quarter sections (normally 40 acres) and build the farm.
So, the legal description of this farm is “T9N, R14W, Section 26, 6th Principal Meridian, Buffalo County, Nebraska”. Each tract on the left panel would be useful for ordering a title report, filling in exhibits of a lease, or other time when you are searching for a legal. Often written as the SW¼SW¼ of Section 9, Township 9N, Range 14W of the 6th Principal Meridian.
You can save this project for any farm within Farmapper for future use, as well as add it as a layer to any of your other projects and just share it with others, similar to how a Google doc might be shared. The Kearney demo project is here. Shared as read only public document.
The Farmapper team hopes you enjoyed this quick post and that it helps you become a little more familiar with the PLSS and using Farmapper to find legal descriptions.