What Land Works Best?
3 - 5
Students will identify crops grown in all Utah counties and explain how climate, water, and soil type help to determine where crops are grown. Students will identify where major crops are grown in the United States and learn map reading techniques.
- Where in the US did my food come from? activity sheet, 1 per student
- Utah Agriculture Activity Map
- Utah Agricultural Products Questions activity sheet for display
- Rooftop Farming activity sheet for display
*Note: This lesson plan can easily be simulated for other states by using the USDA's Census of Agriculture Web Maps, which allows you to view maps of different agricultural statistics across the United States and at the state level, using the "state zoom."
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
- alfalfa: legume crop high in protein that is dried into hay and used to feed livestock, especially dairy cattle
- rural: sparsely populated areas; land area typically used for agriculture
- urban: in or relating to cities and densely populated areas; little land area available for agriculture
Background Agricultural Connections
Utah has 54 million acres of land and is the 13th largest state in the United States. More than half of Utah's land is federally owned. Privately owned farmland make up about 21% of Utah's land area, and most of that land is used as pasture for livestock. According to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, only 15% of Utah's farmland is used to grow crops, accounting for 32% of the value of Utah's agricultural output. Most crop farms are concentrated in the Wasatch Front, a narrow strip of land extending approximately 100 miles north and south of Salt Lake City at the base of the Wasatch Range. Snowmelt from the mountains provides irrigation water for the valleys below. This is also where some of the best soils in the state are located. Three-fifths of the cropland is devoted to wheat and hay. Hay is the number one crop grown in Utah. Native grass and alfalfa are the most popular kinds of hay to grow. Alfalfa grows best with irrigation in a climate that has cold winters and warm summers. It is drought resistant, which means it can survive even when there's limited rain or irrigation.
In eastern Box Elder County, a large area of mountainside terraces is occupied by fruit orchards. This area is known as the Utah Fruitway, and its farmers grow some of the finest peaches, apricots, melons, squash, and other fruits and vegetables to be found anywhere. Utah County is also known for its fruit production. Davis and Weber counties lead in the production of onions, another important Utah crop. Most of the onions grown in Utah end up in restaurant food chains. To the north and east in Cache Valley, dryland grain is grown among irrigated fields of alfalfa.
Livestock and livestock products account for 68% of Utah's annual agricultural output. Dairy farming is very important in the irrigated valleys west and north of Salt Lake City. Beef cattle graze wherever adequate grass and water exist. Sheep are raised in less favorable environments, particularly the desert basins of the west. Sanpete County is known for it large number of sheep and turkeys.
Unfortunately, some of Utah's best farmland is being lost to rapid growth and development. Between 1982 and 2007, Utah lost 300,000 acres of farmland. Years ago, our communities were built next to the best ground so farmers would be near their farms. As those communities have grown into towns and cities, much of our farmland has been paved and built over. Throughout the nation there is concern about the loss of farmland to urban development. Every day farms and countryside disappear as a result of suburban sprawl, industrial development, and the construction of new roads and highways. In 2007, 78% of the nation's vegetables and melons and 67% of its dairy products were produced in counties subject to urban pressure.
Many people think that the loss of farmland is primarily an issue for farmers. Loss of rural farmland should be of concern to everyone—it can affect food prices, property taxes, and the environment we live in. Farmland is important not only because it is the source of the food we eat, but also because of its scenic beauty, the wildlife habitat it can provide, and the role it plays in preserving unique cultures and traditions.
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Ask the students to help you make a list on the board of all the types of farms they have seen in Utah. This list can include farms that are nearby as well as those they may have seen on a road trip in other areas of the state. As you list each type of farm, list the food they produce as well. For example if a student lists a dairy farm, specify that it produces milk.
- When your brainstorm is complete, explain to the students that they will be learning about different factors that determine where food is grown. Some of their food is grown close by, and other food is not.
Activity 1: Where does my food come from?
- Give each student a copy of the Where in the United States did my food come from? activity sheet to complete.
- Discuss the regional patterns and the following questions:
- What determines which crops are grown where? (water availability, climate, elevation, soil type; consider sharing a map of US soil types to illustrate the connection between crops and soils)
- Who determines what farmers grow? (consumers who influence demand, other farmers who influence supply, government officials who set quotas and subsidies, and farmers themselves who have preferences and traditions)
- Can you identify where the corn belt and wheat belt are located?
Activity 2: Utah Grown
- Record students' favorite fruits and vegetables on the board. Ask students to identify which of the fruits and vegetables on the list are grown in Utah by placing a star next to them.
- Share some of the background information with your students. Discuss the types of crops that are grown in Utah and why. List some of the climatic conditions that limit the types of crops that can be grown (availability of water, summer heat/winter cold, length of growing season, etc.). For example, students may have listed bananas in step 1. Bananas require tropical temperatures and much more water than is available in Utah. Conversely, peaches are a fruit that do very well in some parts of Utah.
- Give each student a copy of the Utah Agriculture Activity Map to complete.
- Display the Utah Agricultural Products Questions. Feel free to make up additional questions of your own. Ask students to discuss the answers as a group.
- Conclude this activity by emphasizing the importance of preserving farmland in communities. Use the "Rooftop Farming" activity sheet to underscore this point. See if your class can come up with an interesting and informative caption for the graphic. For example, "Who decides where farmers farm?" or "Watch your next right turn!"
Answers to Utah Agricultural Products Questions:
- In Utah, crops are grown where there is water. Geographically, mountains are a good indicator of where the most water is available. Crops are grown near mountains in the valleys with adequate water, adequate (loam) soils, and where slopes are at a minimum. Orchards are an exception. Many orchards in Utah are planted on the foothills; still, they are near water.
- Hay is drought tolerant. Hay is also needed to feed the state's large livestock industry.
- Utah has a lot of rangeland. The plants that grow on the range produce good beef, but the forage is not high enough in protein to produce a high volume and quality of milk.
- Answers will vary.
- Answers will vary.
- Crops that are the same: hay, cattle, wheat, etc.; crops that are different: fruit, mink, dairy, onions, etc.; the differences in crops can be explained by the availability of water and other climatic/environmental considerations.
- The Wasatch Front; the Wasatch Front; Utah has a limited area that is good for farming, if that space is taken up by housing, we will have to get our food from other states or even other countries (other answers may be acceptable).
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- In Utah and other arid climates, crops are grown where there is adequate water for plant growth through irrigation.
- Farms are located in areas where there is adequate open space for fields and pastures used to grow crops and raise livestock.
- Fertile soil, climate, and weather patterns all impact the ability of farmers to grow crops and raise livestock.
- 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!
Read Issue 3 of Ag Today titled Our Invaluable Natural Resources. This reader can be printed or accessed digitally. It helps students understand how plants and animals raised on farms depend on natural resources to live such as the sun, soil, water, and air to grow. Learn methods farmers use to protect and preserve these natural resources while still providing the food, fiber, and fuel we need to live.
Suggested Companion Resources
- Mountains of Jokes About Rocks, Minerals, and Soil (Book)
- Rocks and Soil (Book)
- Soil! Get the Inside Scoop (Book)
- The Scrambled States of America (Book)
- This Land Is Your Land (Book)
- Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States (Poster, Map, Infographic)
- Crop Cards (Poster, Map, Infographic)
- Interactive Map Project (Poster, Map, Infographic)
- Utah Agriculture Activity Map (Poster, Map, Infographic)
- Dirt: Secrets in the Soil (DVD) (Multimedia)
- Eat Happy Project video series (Multimedia)
- Third-Grader Explains Nature's Role in Providing Clean Water (Multimedia)
- Ag Today (Booklets & Readers)
- Ag Census Web Maps (Website)
- Into the Outdoors: Farm Science (Website)
- Rocks and Soils (UEN Sci-ber Text for 4th Grade) (Website)
- Soil Center (Website)
- State Fact Sheets (Website)
Utah Agriculture in the Classroom
- Explain how the interaction of the sun, soil, water, and weather in plant and animal growth impacts agricultural production (T1.3-5.b)
- Recognize the natural resources used in agricultural practices to produce food, feed, clothing, landscaping plants, and fuel (e.g., soil, water, air, plants, animals, and minerals) (T1.3-5.e)
- Understand the agricultural history of an individual's specific community and/or state (T5.3-5.f)
- People adapt to the conditions of the physical environment.
- Places are locations having distinctive characteristics that give them meaning and distinguish them from other locations.
- Read and comprehend complex literacy and informational texts independently and proficiently.
- Prepare for and participate effectively inn a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
- Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
- Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.