Growing a Nation Era 5a: Growing Technology
9 - 12
Students will be introduced to technologies currently used on farms by engaging in an AppQuest to discover how farmers use mobile apps to manage farm production systems, marketing options, and make timely decisions. Grades 9-12
Supporting Question 1:
- Technology Scenarios, 1 copy per class
- Farming AppQuest Scenario Cards, 1 copy per class
- Computer or device for each student group
Supporting Question 2:
app: an application used on a mobile device to perform a task
technology: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes
Did You Know?
- Farmers can use Twitter, YouTube, and other media to keep updated on new farming techniques, equipment, and trade advice.1
- Many farming decisions rely on weather. Weather forecasting apps are among the most used apps by farmers. In fact, many farmers report using multiple weather apps and place weather stations on their farms.2
- During harvest, a grain farmer can use an app to know the location of every combine, truck, and cart to eliminate delays waiting for machinery.3
- A farmer can program a drone from his phone to fly a predetermined each day to monitor crop growth.3
Background Agricultural Connections
Growing a Nation: Growing Technology uses the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework's Inquiry Arc as a blueprint to lead students through an investigation of technnologies farmers use to manage their farm operations to ensure economic viability, societal benefits, and environmental quality. The Inquiry Arc consists of four dimensions of informed inquiry in social studies:
The four dimensions of the C3 Framework center on the use of questions to spark curiosity, guide instruction, deepen investigations, acquire rigorous content, and apply knowledge and ideas in real world settings to become active and engaged citizens in the 21st century.1 For more information about the C3 Framework, visit socialstudies.org.
The Information Age was an era of great technological and scientific advancements. Agriculture has changed drastically with the implementation of technology. The use of technology can be found in nearly every aspect of our daily lives and has revolutionized the farm. Some technology is in its infancy and some has already been adopted globally looking to a future of needing to provide food, fuel, and fiber for an estimated 10 billion people by 2050.
Here are a few examples of technology on the farm:
Agriculture requires a significant amount of manual labor. What do you think a robot could do? Autonomous pickers identify and pick ripe fruits and vegetables. Other specialized robots could also find and eliminate weeds and pests that damage crops.
Precise timing is key! When it comes to nutrient management, watering, pest management, and harvest; too early or too late doesn’t cut it. High-tech sensors located in fields send alerts to farmers through an app on their phone when it’s time to take action.
Aerial crop imaging
Arable land suitable to produce our food is a limited resource. Aerial images taken with drones, satellites and planes can help farmers map their fields and use the land to its greatest potential. Drones could perform crop monitoring, planting and even spraying.
Agriculture data systems
Record keeping and data collection helps farmers identify successful solutions and areas that need improvement. Notebooks are being replaced with digital platforms. Farm data such as annual crop yield, market forecasts, soil nutrients and weather are collected and stored electronically to give farmers valuable information as they make decisions.
Global Positioning Systems
GPS-based applications are being used for farm planning, field mapping and more! The farmer is always present, but one of the most popular features of GPS is the tractor can drive itself to ensure perfect rows that precisely apply exactly what the seed needs to grow. Not too much, not too little.
Vertical and indoor farming
Growing crops up, instead of out! Now that’s a good idea! Vegetables and fruits tend to work the best in vertical farming, but who knows what the future will hold. Vertical farming is ideal where land isn't available and it can even re-purpose abandoned structures.
Livestock health and activity monitors
The livestock industry utilizes technology in a variety of ways to ensure animal health, safety, and welfare. For example, “smart collars” are used like a personal fit bit, tracking daily activity, behavior and health. Breath analysis can be done with high-tech equipment allowing farmers to evaluate potential health problems and diet. Thermal imaging and 3D cameras have the capability of analyzing an animal’s body muscle and weight to advise the farmer when to sell their livestock.
Fish farms and aquaponics
Traditional farming requires land, water, and nutrients. Specialized fish farms involve raising fish in tanks or enclosed ponds. Aquaponic systems are a unique way to grow fish and plants symbiotically. By using a zero-waste system, waste from the fish is cycled through the system to grow the plants.
Another alternative protein source is cultured meat. It isn’t “meat” in the traditional sense as it doesn’t come from processing an animal. It is a formed in a lab using animal cells. Cultured meat uses techniques to engineer tissues to form a meat alternative.
New seed varieties
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and CRISPR technology edits genes in plants to overcome a challenge such as a disease. One GMO plant takes approximately 8-10 years to research and ensure its safety which costs around $130 million dollars to produce. There are currently 10 GMO crops approved for growing – the most common are varieties of corn, soybean, cotton, sugar beets and canola.
Compelling Question: How can present-day farmers and ranchers use technologies to manage their farm operations to ensure economic viability, societal benefits, and environmental quality?
- Divide the class into 7 groups. Give each group one sheet from the Technology Scenarios printout.
- Assign students to read their scenario and find a technological solution for the challenge they have been given. Give students 10-15 minutes to research their challenge and find a solution. As students perform research, give prompts as needed to be sure they recognize the need for technology to be a part of their solution. For example, one farmer cannot visually monitor thousands of acres of crops or count the steps of an entire herd of dairy cows.
- After students have found their solution, have them share it with the class.
Explore and Explain
Supporting Question 1: How do mobile apps assist farmers and ranchers in managing their farms?
- Ask students to brainstorm all of the ways that a smart phone can be used as a "tool." As students offer suggestions, have a discussion about various apps that they use and what is accomplished by using each.
- Based on your discussion, identify specific categories that specific phone apps can fit in. Examples include communication (phone, texting, social media), record keeping or scheduling (calendar, to-do lists, notes), tools (QR code scanner or calculator), etc.
- Ask students, "What do you think a farmer can accomplish from their phone?"
- Divide the class into 10 groups. Give each group one Farming AppQuest Scenario Card.
- Explain to students that they have been assigned the food commodity listed on their handout. Their task is to find six apps a farmer could use to make their farm more productive and efficient. Teacher Tip: If possible, use the Google Play Store rather than the App Store. In pilot testing, students searching Google Play found more apps in their search. If Android devices are not available, go to Google Play's website.
- Give students an example of an app used by a dairy farmer by watching the video, Connecterra: Using AI To Give Nature a Voice.
- Prior to beginning their search, instruct students on helpful search terms as well as general topics such as:
- Crop Management:
- Fertilizer application or nutrient monitoring
- Farm management
- Livestock Management:
- Herd health
- Farm Management
- Financial records
- Crop Management:
- After students have completed their AppQuest, have each group share one app they found which they feel would be most valuable to a farmer.
Activity 2: What agricultural events influenced the Information Age?
- Using a projector, mobile devices, or computer lab, review the Growing a Nation: Information Age section of the multimedia timeline. The Growing a Nation events and sub-events are designed to be adaptable to a variety of teaching strategies. Each Main Event contains sub-events that explore American history for a greater understanding of the time period or historical cause and effect relationships. The sub-events ask higher order questions to not only expand student knowledge, but also to increase their comprehension to the level of application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
- After students view selected events and sub-events, assign or allow students (or student groups) to choose a sub-event tile. Students can work off of a computer or mobile device or take a screenshot of the selected sub-event and print.
- Ask the students to be prepared to answer the questions on their tile by either using the Think, Pair, Share strategy or by using one of the attached Demonstration of Learning Strategies. You may want to choose a particular strategy to use with the entire class or cut the strategies into strips and ask each student to pick one or two. If the student or groups of students is allowed to pick two, ask them to choose the learning strategy they prefer and put the other one back. Keep in mind that some Demonstration of Learning Strategies will be a better fit for some of the event topics than others and that some may take more time than others. Some strategies may need to be grouped depending on the available time.
Summative Performance Task
Using evidence from historical sources, construct an argument (e.g., essay, project, video production, portfolio, detailed outline, poster) that addresses the compelling question, "How can present-day farmers and ranchers use technologies to manage their farm operations to ensure economic viability, societal benefits, and environmental quality?"
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Farms employ highly sophisticated technology to increase the production of food and manage challenges such as drought, pests, weeds, climate change, and more.
- Scientists and engineers continue to work to develop even more technologies to improve the production of our food.
- The use of technology on the farm has impacted society. For example, advanced technology has allowed fewer farmers to provide food for our growing population. Future advances in technology will continue to bring changes to society.
Growing a Nation was funded by USDA CSREES cooperative agreement #2004-38840-01819 and developed cooperatively by: USDA, Utah State University Extension, and LetterPress Software, Inc.
Recommended Companion Resources
- 360 Agriculture Virtual Reality
- Drones and the Future of Farming Video
- Field Robots of the Future
- How Drones are Helping to Plant Trees - A Cleaner Future
- Robotic Farming of the Future
- The Farming Robots of Tomorrow are Here Today
- The Future of Farming & Agriculture video
- This High-Tech Farm Grows Kale in a Factory
- What Happens When Farming Goes High-Tech?
- Precision Agriculture Technologies and Factors Affecting Their Adoption
- Using Technology to Save Water
Andrea Gardner and Debra Spielmaker
National Center for Agricultural Literacy
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