Increasing Food Production with Precision Agriculture
6 - 8
This hands-on lesson teaches students how precision agriculture uses geographic information systems (GIS) to help farmers and manufacturers make smart, efficient, and responsible decisions about how and when they plant, grow, irrigate, harvest, and transport crops.
Increasing Production with Precision Agriculture student handout, 1 per student
Increasing Production with Precision Agriculture Teacher KEY
Increasing Production with Precision Agriculture PowerPoint
irrigation: the artificial application of water to the land or soil
pivot: equipment used to irrigate fields (large sprinkler)
acre: a unit of area equal to 43,560 square feet (about the size of a football field)
section: one square mile of land (640 acres)
bushel: a measure of capacity usually for dry goods equal to 64 pints
yield: measure of grains or seeds generated from a unit of land (agricultural output)
water use efficiency (WUE): the ratio of water used in plant metabolism to water lost by the plant through transpiration)
variable rate irrigation: applies exactly the right amount of water to each foot/meter of the field
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
finite resources: resources that do not renew themselves at a sufficient rate (nonrenewable)
Did you know? (Ag Facts)
It is estimated that 9 billion people will inhabit the earth in 2050.1
It is expected that food production will have to increase by 70% to feed an additional 2.3 billion people by 2050.2
Farmers today produce 262% more food with 2% fewer inputs than they did in 1950.3
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
Ask students if they know the current population of the world. (approximately 7 billion)
Ask, "Is our population increasing or decreasing?" (increasing) Inform students that it is estimated that we will have 9 billion people by the year 2050. Farmers will need to grow as much food in the next 50 years as they did in the past 10,000 years combined.1
Ask students, "What necessities will we need more of in order to accommodate 2 billion additional people on the earth?" (food, water, energy, goods, and medical technologies, etc.)
Explain that we will need to find solutions to feed a growing population. With limited resources (arable land, water, plant nutrients, etc.), we must do more with less without degrading our natural world. Precision agriculture is the answer to increasing yields without increasing resources. Inform students that they will be learning what precision agriculture is and how engineers develop these technologies.
Activity 1: Introduction
Following the Interest Approach students should begin to have an idea of the significance of the projected population growth in our world. Ask students to begin thinking about the overall impact of population growth as they watch the video, Agriculture is Under Pressure.
Following the video, ask the class what the overall message is or what stuck out to them. Lead the discussion to conclude that farmers need to produce more food using the same resources.
Introduce the word efficiency. Discuss the definition and give real-life examples of efficiency that students will relate to. Point out that farmers will need to be more and more efficient to keep up with the demand for food.
Ask students what type of resources farmers need in order to produce our food. As you discuss the following resources, point out that they are limited. We can't obtain more. Therefore, we need to be more efficient in our use of them.
Open space to grow crops or raise livestock
Arable soil (soil containing adequate nutrients, a proper growing climate, and appropriate soil texture for plant growth)
Point out that farmers have become more efficient in previous years through the use of technology. Ask students, "What are some examples of technology that farmers are using today?" (Students may discuss GPS, maps, cell phones, automated irrigation systems, computers, large machinery (tractors) with automated features, etc.)
Introduce the concept of precision agriculture. Explain that precision agriculture implements various technological instruments to make agriculture more precise and efficient. As an example show the video clip Kinze Autonomy Project: Harvesting System. As the video clip plays ask students what they notice is different about the tractor (there isn't a driver.) Explain that this tractor is operated using robot and GPS technology. This allows a single worker to harvest an entire field.
Introduce a second example of precision agriculture, variable rate application or (VRA). With VRA, different rates of an input such as water, seed, or fertilizer can be applied to a field to match the needs of each specific area. Show the first 3 minutes of the video clip, Precision VRI to explain and illustrate the unique components in each field that impact the water needs.
Following the video, summarize why farmers would want to use variable rate irrigation.
Increase crop yields. Too much or too little water decreases plant health and crop yield.
Provide exact and precise watering for each soil type and slope within a field. (Soil type can vary within a field. Clay soil holds high amounts of water which allows the roots to soak in the water for a longer time. In sandy soils, water can quickly run through the soil without penetrating the roots).
Use slide 2 of the Increasing Production with Precision Agriculture PowerPoint to give clarification on how soil type affects water holding capacity.
Use slide 3 to show a picture of a field being watered uniformly. Ask students if they can see a section of the field that needs more water.
Use slides 4-7 to summarize key points in preparation for the next activity.
Activity 2: Calculating WUE and Building a VRI System
Give each student one copy of the Increasing Production with Precision Agriculture student handout.
Complete "Part 1" of the handout. This section can be completed as a class, in groups, or individually. Slides 9-19 walk through the worksheet step-by-step.
Move on to "Part 2" of the handout. Guide students through the instructions for the variable rate irrigation activity in the student handout. Using slides 20-25, explain to students that they will build a device to vary water flow (just like in variable rate irrigation). Their goal is to build a system to divide 16oz of water into three cups with 2 oz., 6 oz., and 8 oz. of water in each.
Form students into groups of three. Distribute a 16 oz. water bottle, 3 cups, scissors, and a choice of straws or other materials to each group.
Using slide 25, discuss the engineering design process with students and have them complete page 4 of the handout.
Give students 10 minutes to construct a device to simultaneously divide the water into 3 different amounts. Allow students to test their design and share it with the class.
After their designs have been tested, instruct students to complete page 5 of their handout.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation:
Encourage students to reflect on the activity using class discussion by asking the following reflection questions:
Was your design successful?
What could you do to improve your design?
What career could you choose that uses these skills to develop instruments used in precision agriculture?
Why is precision agriculture important?
Summarize the lesson with the following key points:
Technology has developed and improved through time. It helps farmers/ranchers provide more food to more people.
Using technology in agriculture decreases negative environmental impacts in our world.
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!
Assign students to read individually, or share with the class the online article from Modern Farmer, 8 Hot Farm Tech Start-Ups. Students will learn about eight specific technology applications used in agriculture.
Watch the Variable Rate Technology video clip to see how VAR technology is also used to seed fields and apply fertilizers more efficiently.
Apply and document an engineering design process that includes identifying criteria and constraints, making representations, testing and evaluation, and refining the design as needed to construct a product or system to solve a problem. For example: Investigate how energy changes from one form to another by designing and constructing a simple roller coaster for a marble.
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)
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)
Model with mathematics. Students can apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace. Students who can apply what they know are comfortable making assumptions and approximations to simplify a complicated situation, realizing that these may need revision later. They are able to identify important quantities in a practical situation and map their relationships using such tools as diagrams, two-way tables, graphs, flowcharts and formulas. They can analyze those relationships mathematically to draw conclusions.
Attend to precision. Students try to communicate precisely to others. They try to use clear definitions in discussion with others and in their own reasoning. They state the meaning of the symbols they choose, including using the equal sign consistently and appropriately. They are careful about specifying units of measure, and labeling axes to clarify the correspondence with quantities in a problem. They calculate accurately and efficiently, express numerical answers with a degree of precision appropriate for the problem context.
Define 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.