National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
Search Lesson Plans & Companion Resources
High-Tech Farming (Grades 6-8)
6 - 8
Students will discover technologies that are used on farms to increase efficiency and yields and decrease costs and environmental impact.
Interest Approach — Engagement:
- Milking at the 1850 Farm video
- Robotic Milkers 360 video
- Virtual Reality (VR) viewing devices (optional)
- 360 Degree 5-Minute Prep PowerPoint (optional)
Activity 1: Agricultural Technology Timeline
- Agricultural Technology Timeline cards, 1 set of cut apart cards per group
Activity 2: The Future of Farming
- The Future of Farming & Agriculture video
- Adobe Spark (free online and mobile graphic design app)
- Access to computers, tablets, or smartphones
Activity 3: Farming Challenges
- Agricultural Engineers video
- Farming Challenges cards, 1 card per group
- Poster paper, 1 per group
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
Global Positioning System (GPS): a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on or near the Earth
autonomous vehicle: a vehicle that can guide itself without a human operator
drone: an unmanned aircraft guided by remote control or onboard computers
laser: a device that produces a narrow and powerful beam of light
precision agriculture: an information technology-based, site-specific farm management system that collects and responds to data ensuring that crops receive exactly what they need for optimum health and productivity
robot: an automatically operated machine used to do work usually performed by humans
self-driving tractors: autonomous farm vehicle that uses GPS and other wireless technologies to farm land
variable rate application: a method of applying varying rates of a material in appropriate zones throughout a field based on the precise location or qualities of the area
sensor: a device that detects or measures a physical property and records, indicates, or otherwise responds to it
Did you know? (Ag Facts)
- In 1850, 100 bushels of corn required 83 labor hours and 2.5 acres of land. Today, only two labor hours and .6 of an acre of land are needed.4
- A modern combine can harvest 350 acres of corn per day (4,500 bushels per hour) and it can unload 3.8 bushels per second.4
- If the world's farmers would have continued to grow crops at 1961 productivity levels, they would need almost 2.5 billion acres of new farmland to maintain today's food supply, which is more than the total land area of the United States.9
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Show the students the Milking at the 1850 Farm video to view a reenactment of how cows were milked in 1850.
- Ask the students, "What tools did the pioneer girl in the video use to milk the cow?" (She used a stool and a bucket.)
- Show the students the 360 video Robot Milkers to view how Automatic Milking Systems in modern dairies use robots to milk cows. This video is best viewed using a virtual reality (VR) viewing device, but can also be viewed on a computer, smart phone, or tablet without VR goggles. For more information about using 360 video in the classroom, see Discovery Farmland's 360 Degree Video 5-minute Prep PowerPoint.
- Ask the students, "What tools were used in the modern dairy to milk the cows?" (Robotic milking system, digital responders, lasers, and computers.)
- Lead a discussion comparing and contrasting the ways cows were milked in 1850 and how cows can be milked today. Integrate the following points into the discussion:
- Cows are milked two to three times a day.
- On average, cows produce about seven gallons of milk each day.
- It takes about fifteen minutes to milk a cow by hand and about five minutes to milk a cow using a robotic milking system.
- Ask the students, "How does technology impact farms?"
Activity 1: Agricultural Technology Timeline
- Lead a discussion about the development of agricultural technology. Integrate the following points into the discussion:
- Agriculture began around 10,000 BC when humans started domesticating plants and animals to ensure a more reliable food source when compared to hunting and gathering. At that time, most work was accomplished by hand with few tools available.
- The introduction of powered machinery replaced work previously performed by people and animals (horses, mules, and oxen).
- Throughout history, scientific and technological advancements have impacted the agricultural industry by increasing food production and farm efficiency.
- Organize the students into small groups. Provide each group with a set of Agricultural Technology Timeline cards.
- Have each group create a timeline of agricultural technology by ordering the cards and placing the year card in the space provided on the corresponding technology card.
- After the groups have completed their timelines, check to make sure the order is correct.
- 1701: Jethro Tull introduced the seed drill, a device that cuts trenches and drops in seeds.
- 1793: Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a machine that separates seeds from fiber.
- 1834: Cyrus McCormick patented the McCormick reaper, a grain harvesting machine.
- 1837: John Deere invented the steel plow, which was stronger, sharper, and more efficient.
- 1842: Joseph Dart invented and built the first grain elevator, a wooden structure with buckets used to load and unload ships.
- 1873: Silos, structures that store grain, came into use.
- 1874: Glidden barbed wire, an inexpensive fencing used for livestock on rangeland, was patented.
- 1884: The horse-drawn combine, used to harvest wheat, came into use on West Coast farms.
- 1892: The first gasoline tractor was built by John Froelich.
- 1959: The mechanical tomato harvester, used to harvest, sort, and load tomatoes, was developed.
- 1980: Farmers began using computers to manage farm operations and monitor weather conditions.
- 1994: Farmers began using satellite technology to track and plan their farming practices.
- 2003: Farm equipment manufacturers install GPS systems in tractors.
- 2012: The first self-driving, autonomous tractor was unveiled at the Big Iron Farm Show in North Dakota.
- 2013: Widespread use of drone technology by farmers.
Activity 2: The Future of Farming
- View the video The Future of Farming & Agriculture.
- Ask the students to identify the different types of technology showcased in the video.
- Have each student choose one of the following agricultural technologies from the video:
- Autonomous pickers
- Robotic weed/pest eliminator
- Weed-eliminating lasers
- Agriculture sensors
- Robotic soil-sampler
- Drone-assisted crop monitoring
- Aerial crop imaging
- CubeSat whole farm imaging
- Agriculture data analytics
- Agriculture data-sharing collectives
- High density vertical farming
- Livestock activity monitors
- Livestock breath analysis
- Livestock automated thermal imaging analysis
- Livestock 3-D camera measuring
- Livestock health monitoring
- Automated behavior analysis
- Inland saltwater fish farms
- Zero waste fish farming
- Bacteria-based fish food
- Insect flour and protein powder
- Cultured meats
- Provide time for the students to research their technology and create an Adobe Spark (free online and mobile graphic design app) presentation that includes the following information:
- Name of the technology
- Photograph(s) or video(s) of the technology
- Description of the technology
- Explanation of the agricultural uses of the technology
- Allow time for the students to share and discuss their presentations with the class.
Activity 3: Farm Scenarios
- Watch the Agricultural Engineers video to discover what agricultural engineers do and what types of problems they are trying to solve.
- Arrange students into groups of 4-5. Give each group one of the Farming Challenges cards so that at least two different groups have the same scenario. Ask the groups to work as agricultural engineers to propose a solution for their challenge.
- Provide each group with poster paper. Have the groups draw a picture/diagram of their technology or invention on the poster paper.
- Invite each group to share their challenge and propose their solution with the class.
- Discuss the proposals, pointing out that there can be more than one solution to a problem, and that, typically, an idea must be tested and revised several times before it is successful. Even when ideas are not successful, much can be learned from the process. Use the following questions to guide the discussion:
- How were the different solution proposals for the same challenge similar or different?
- What are the pros and cons of the proposed solutions
- What type of technology (robots, drones, lasers, etc.) were utilized in the proposed solutions?
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- As the world population increases, farmers need to produce more food.
- The increase in U.S. food production is directly related to the advancement of technology.
- Farmers, scientists, and engineers work to find solutions to agricultural challenges.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
How will technology change farming in the future? See one version of how farmers might control their operations in the future by viewing the video Farm Forward. Have the students create a picture that illustrates their version of how farmers will operate in the future.
Suggested Companion Resources
- Agricultural Drones (Book)
- Agricultural Inventions: At the Top of the Field (Book)
- Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin (Book)
- John Deere's Powerful Idea: The Perfect Plow (Book)
- VR Viewer (Kit)
- 360 Agriculture — Virtual Reality (Multimedia)
- Drones and the Future of Farming Video (Multimedia)
- Field Robots of the Future (Multimedia)
- Fighting Weeds: Can we reduce, or even eliminate herbicides by utilizing robotics and AI? (Multimedia)
- How Drones are Helping to Plant Trees - A Cleaner Future (Multimedia)
- Precision Agriculture Technologies and Factors Affecting Their Adoption (Multimedia)
- Programming Sun and Rain (Multimedia)
- Robotic Farming of the Future (Multimedia)
- SupraSensor Could be Super Tool for Precision Agriculture (Multimedia)
- The Farming Robots of Tomorrow are Here Today (Multimedia)
- The Future of Farming & Agriculture video (Multimedia)
- What Happens When Farming Goes High-Tech? (Multimedia)
- Cotton Gin Animation (Website)
- Esri GIS for Agriculture (Website)
- The History of the Tractor (Website)
- Tractor Timeline- A History of Tractors (Website)
State Standards for Minnesota
7th Grade: Life Science7th Grade: Life Science
220.127.116.11.2Describe ways that human activities can change the populations and communities in an ecosystem.
8th Grade: Nature of Science and Engineering8th Grade: Nature of Science and Engineering
18.104.22.168.1Describe examples of important contributions to the advancement of science, engineering, and technology made by individuals representing different groups and cultures at different times in history.
22.214.171.124.3Provide examples of how advances in technology have impacted how people live, work and interact.
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Science, Technology, Engineering & Math
- Discuss how technology has changed over time to help farmers/ranchers provide more food to more people (T4.6-8.d)
- Identify specific technologies that have reduced labor in agriculture (T4.6-8.h)
- Provide examples of science and technology used in agricultural systems (e.g., GPS, artificial insemination, biotechnology, soil testing, ethanol production, etc.); explain how they meet our basic needs, and detail their social, economic, and environmental impacts (T4.6-8.i)
Common Core Connections
Reading: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Writing: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
5-12 History Era 6 Standard 1C: Agriculture, mining, and ranching transformed.
Objective 1Explain how major geographical and technological influences, including hydraulic engineering and barbed wire, affected farming, mining, and ranching.
NCSS 8: Science, Technology, and Society
Objective 2Society often turns to science and technology to solve problems.
MS-ETS1 Engineering Design
MS-ETS1-1Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
MS-ETS1-2Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.