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Smart farming: using data to make decisions

What kind of data do farmers use to make decisions? Where does that data come from?

Become a “farmer” on a journey from pre-planting to harvest to see what decisions farmers are making every year as they farm (or step into a farmer’s shoes as s/he makes a decision based on the data s/he has gathered about her farm). Growers across the country are gaining access to more and more data about their farms. The data is being gathered through equipment or other precision agriculture techniques, then it must be analyzed so that decisions made will be based on evidence. Scientists in all disciplines use the same practices as farmers.


Teacher background

Precision agriculture is a set of technologies that allows farmers to be more efficient in their farming practices. It includes, but is not limited to, soil testing across ½ acre to 2 ½ acre grid squares on the field, auto steering on tractors to allow for optimum use of field area, planters that can plant different varieties of a crop in different parts of the field, depending on productivity of the soil, sprayers that can adjust fertilizer and pesticide levels to areas that need targeted, harvesters that collect yield data that can be mapped in relation to a particular area in the field and more.

This unit is meant to be a comprehensive look at how farming is done. However, there are many activities that can be used independently if there is an interest in using only pieces. It can be used as a threaded PBL throughout the year determined by your curriculum, or your students could take a two week look at the decisions and data, then plug in the decisions and see the results.


A special thank you goes to The Ohio State University, Molly Caren Agricultural Center, home of the Ohio Farm Science Review, for allowing us to use their data and soil tests. Also, we used information from AgSolver, a powerful software program that allows growers to test out changes they might make to their practice to see what the consequences may be before spending a season waiting for the results. Shawn Conley, Agronomist, Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin, allowed us to use his information on yield in soybeans. Jeff Goodbar, Sunrise Cooperative, lent us his expertise to get started on the project. Thank you all!

Next gen standards

Science and engineering practices

  • Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Crosscutting concepts

  • Patterns
  • Cause and effect
  • Scale, proportion, and quantity
  • Systems and system models
  • Energy and matter
  • Stability and change

Disciplinary core ideas/content

  • ESS2A Earth materials and systems
  • ESS2E Biogeology
  • ESS3C Human impacts on Earth systems
  • LS1A Structure and Function
  • LS1B Growth and development of organisms
  • LS1C Organization for matter and energy flow in organisms
  • LS1D Information processing
  • LS2A Interdependent relationships in ecosystems
  • LS2B Cycles of matter and energy transfer in ecosystems
  • LS2C Ecosystem dynamics, functioning and resilience
  • ETS2A Interdependence of science, engineering and technology
  • ETS2B Influence of engineering, technology and science on society and the natural world

Curriculum authors




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