What did you have to eat today? Where was your food grown? Where was the cotton in your shirt cultivated? An increasing number of books and research initiatives are aimed at helping students to reconnect with the importance of agriculture. I created a new resource on the ArcLessons library (http://edcommunity.esri.com/arclessons/lesson.cfm?id=416) to invite investigation of four different crops—soybeans (shown on the map below), wheat, corn (maize), and cotton—in a spatial context.

The resource includes agricultural data at the county level from the US Census of Agriculture, climate data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Spatial Climate Analysis Service at Oregon State University, and base layers (states, rivers, roads, lakes) from ESRI. The lesson contains 40 questions, but additional investigation can certainly be done, by students of secondary, university, and informal (such as 4-H) programs.

Learners work through the following scenario: The US Department of Agriculture has heard about your extensive skills in GIS and spatial analysis, and has hired you to investigate the patterns of 4 crops as part of its National Crop Assessment Program (NCAP). They would like you to produce a report detailing the results of the following investigation: What are the cultural and physical geographic reasons for the spatial distribution, spatial patterns, and the amount of soybeans, cotton, wheat, and corn grown in the USA?

Learners conduct research on the origin of the four crops, examine the spatial distribution of those crops, and investigate the similarities and differences among them. They discover the most productive counties for each crop, and consider the proximity of major cities and the influence of climate on each. They determine which areas are planted with winter wheat vs. spring wheat, based on the evidence. GIS skills developed include tabular and spatial sorting and queries, selecting and identifying data, and creating thematic maps. Content emphases include national and global considerations of why different crops are grown, and the social and physical reasons for the spatial concentration or diffusion of the cultivation of those crops.

For more information, see:


Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager