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Utah Agriculture in the Classroom

Utah Studies

Changes & Challenges (1900s): Boom Time for Agriculture

Grade Level(s)

6 - 8


Students will learn about Utah watersheds and examine the explosive growth of agriculture and industry in the state of Utah in the 1900s.

Estimated Time

45 minutes

Materials Needed

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Vocabulary Words

  • watershed: the drainage area of a landscape where water from rain or melting snow and ice drains downhill into a body of water such as a river, lake, or reservoir
  • commercial: having to do with the buying and selling of goods and services
  • reservoir: an artificial lake where water is collected and kept in quantity for use

Background Agricultural Connections

Screen 3, Agriculture in the 1900s, Narrative

In 1900 two-thirds of Utahns lived in rural areas. There were 19,387 farms with an average size of 212 acres. This first decade of the new century was a boom time for agriculture. Canals were irrigating more land, and more reservoirs were being built to store water. In 1902 Congress passed the Reclamation Act to fund irrigation projects and make more dry lands productive. Livestock numbers soared to over 3.8 million sheep and nearly 400,000 cattle. There were large increases in the numbers of horses, mules and dairy cows in Utah. In northern and central Utah farmers grew row crops such as tomatoes and peas for canneries. Sugar companies built factories to process sugar beets. Commercial growers flourished by growing apples, peaches, cherries, pears, and other fruit. Utah dairies produced milk for canning. Farmers grew hay, wheat and grain, much of it on dry farms with no irrigation. Utah's farm products began to be shipped to the west coast and the Midwest over a growing network of railroads.

Public Lands and Watershed Management

Albert F. Potter of the US Department of the Interior visited Utah in 1902. He discovered that unrestricted grazing and logging were destroying Utah's forest watersheds. If not properly managed, grazing and logging can leave the land exposed and vulnerable to erosion. Today, much of this land falls under the management of the Forest Service, which has established a Watershed Condition Framework to help focus efforts to improve the health of watersheds on national lands.

Changes & Challenges Unit

This lesson is one in a series of lessons designed to accompany the Utah Studies course taught throughout Utah. The unit explores the settlement of Utah, the self-sufficient nature of the state's people, and the future of Utah agriculture and agricultural land. The Changes & Challenges multimedia teaching tool accompanies the following lessons:

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. View the Agriculture in the 1900s section of the Changes and Challenges multimedia program with your students.
  2. Open the web link to the Canal Map to show your students the map of the Hurricane Irrigation Canal in Southern Utah at the turn of the century. Discuss the question associated with the link, "How would knowing that new canals were planned or under construction have encouraged you to buy land and expand your farm in the early 1900s?"


Milk Separator
  1. Discuss the definition of watershed with students. Explain that in 1902 Albert F. Potter of the US Department of the Interior visited Utah and observed that unrestricted grazing and logging were destroying Utah's watersheds. To further the discussion, visit the web link to the US Forest Service interactive map in the Changes & Challenges multimedia presentation. (Note: The interactive map link will direct you to download Microsoft Silverlight software if it is not already installed on your computer).
  2. Share the National Forest Land Map with students, and ask them, "How do national forest lands, established early in the 1900s, protect the water sources for our state?" 
  3. Share the Agricultural Land Use Map with students and discuss the questions noted on the map.
  4. Explain to students that improvements in irrigation, and the creation of reservoirs to store water greatly improved agricultural production, facilitating the transition from self-sufficiency agriculture to commercial agriculture.
  5. Open the picture link in the Changes & Challengesmultimedia presentation to see the photograph of sugar beets in Garland, Utah. Ask students to respond to the associated question, "What were the advantages of building sugar factories so close to the beet fields." 
  6. Canned milk was one of Utah's important early agricultural industries. Use the PET History handout or the canned milk web link in the Changes & Challenges presentation to learn about the history of canned milk. Discuss the following questions with students:
    • Why do you think canned milk was important before the 1950s?
    • How important is canned milk to consumers today?
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • Water is an essential natural resource for agriculture.
  • Land management in the greater watershed affects the quality and availability of water for agriculture.
  • As irrigation infrastructure improved in Utah in the early 1900s, agricultural production increased, and factories were built to process agricultural goods.

Enriching Activities

Milk Taste Test

Gather a variety of types of milk, such as fresh (whole, 2%, skim, etc.), canned, and boxed/Tetra Pak. Ask students to guess what each sample is and compare the taste and texture of each sample.

Suggested Companion Resources


Debra Spielmaker

Organization Affiliation

Utah Agriculture in the Classroom

State Standards for Utah
Grade 7: Social Studies Standard 4
Students will understand the diverse ways people make a living in Utah.
Objective 2
  • Investigate the past and present role of agriculture in Utah. Meeting one or more of the following indicators:
    1. Identify the importance of farming and ranching to Utah's economy.
    2. Explain the impact the Great Depression on farmers and agriculture.
    3. investigate how agriculture has diversified and improved over time.
    4. Examine the cultural legacy of agriculture in Utah.
Grade 7: Social Studies Standard 1
Students will understand the interaction between Utah's geography and its inhabitants.
Objective 1
  • Investigate the relationship between physical geography and Utah's settlement, land use, and economy. Meeting one or more of the following indicators:
    1. Read and interpret a variety of maps.
    2. Identify the physical features and regions of Utah.
    3. Compare and contrast the relationship between physical features and regions to settlement, land use, and the economy.
Objective 3
  • Assess how natural resources sustain and enhance people's lives. Meeting one or more of the following indicators:
    1. Recognize the impact of water, minerals, wildlife, and forests on people.
    2. Distinguish between renewable and non-renewable resources.
    3. Analyze how natural resources improve the quality of life.
    4. Assess the importance of protecting and preserving natural resources.
Objective 4
  • Examine how people affect the geography of Utah. Meeting one or more of the following indicators:
    1. Identify Utah's counties and cities.
    2. Assess how people change the landscape.
    3. Examine how altered landscapes affect people.