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Topic(s):

Biosphere, Geosphere, Hydrosphere

 

Scenario:

Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee have the greatest number of tobacco farms among tobacco producing states (Capehart, 2004) and lie in the heart of the "tobacco belt." These farms tend to be small, averaging 175 acres total and typically averaging 8.4 acres of tobacco (Capehart, 2004). In terms of revenue from agriculture, Kentucky is the most tobacco-dependent state (Snell and Goetz, 1997). Tobacco buyout programs in the 1990's, the end of tobacco settlement payments in 2005 (KY Tobacco Settlement Trust, 2009), and the end of tobacco farming subsidies have resulted in decreasing profitability in tobacco farming, especially in small farms. Decreasing profitability from tobacco farming is causing many tobacco farmers to diversify and/or to change crops entirely.

Many farmers in rural America have been growing tobacco for generations. Typically this is done on many small fields scattered across a larger farm or across a county where large farms do not exist. There are many places where tobacco is the only crop grown. In these places, no one has paid much attention to the soil types in these fields or to the mineral nutrients available in the soil. When a field stops producing, small farmers often add fertilizers or let a field "go to grass" for a year or two before growing tobacco there again. These practices seemed to work while there were subsidies for tobacco farming, but are not cost effective now. Many farmers are beginning to explore crop diversification and crop rotation as search for ways to preserve their livelihoods. Small rural farmers often struggle to find a balance between environmentally sound farming practices, healthy soil development, and crop productivity.

Task

Local farmers have been rotating tobacco with grass for many years. One family farm has enlisted your earth systems science class to assist them in determining their future course of action. They want to farm something other than tobacco, and they want to know which food crops would be best to rotate to maintain the soil. Your area already has a thriving farmers' market and several grocery stores that buy locally-grown produce, so you know that there is a market for a wide range of fruits and vegetables. This family has asked you and your Earth System Science classmates to explore crop rotation and suggest crops that could/should be rotated through their ten fields in your county.


References

Capehart, Tom, 2004. Trends in U.S. Tobacco Farming. TBS-257-02. PDF.

Kentucky Tobacco Settlement Trust, 2009. Phase II. Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy. PDF.

Snell, Will, Goetz, Stephen. Overview of Kentucky's Tobacco Economy. AEC-83. PDF.

 

Date: 9/18/2009

Scenario Images:

Small hillside tobacco field
Many tobacco fields are small patches on hillsides or along creeks.



Healthy Tobacco Fields
This series of tobacco and hay fields is a part of a growing operation in eastern Kentucky.



Healthy tobacco rotation
Sometimes tobacco is rotated with corn. In this series of fields, healthy tobacco plants are growing in the foreground, and healthy corn plants are growing in the background. Inorganic fertilizers are used to maintain the health of both crops.



Nitrogen deficient tobacco
Small plots of tobacco in clay-rich soil are prone to nitrogen deficiency, turning the leaves yellow. This farmer is rotating his tobacco with corn. Note the sickly corn plants in the field in the background. What plant should be included in the rotation to restore nitrogen to the soil?



Resources:

 

Downloadable County Soil Maps (Cycle A)
Click here to download soil maps for your county. You should incorporate information about your local soil type and its formation in your ESS analysis.

 

Inexpensive soil color chart (Cycle A)
"Color Me WET! Grades 4-12 Wetlands Soil Color Chart" is available from WOW! The Wonders of Wetlands, The Watercourse Module Series Publications. Instructions for how to make and use it are found on p. 237 of the WOW! educator's guide.

You should look at the color of your local soil as you are formulating your ESS analysis.
Evironmental Concern
P.O. Box P
201 Boundary Lane
St. Michaels, MD 21663

This book costs approximately $21.95 + shipping and handling.

 

Major U.S. crop plants (Cycle A)
This site lists and discusses the 7 major crop plants grown in the United States.

 

Nitrogen and the Hydrologic Cycles applied to Soils (Cycle A)
Use this resource to explore the links between the Atmosphere, Hydrosphere, and Lithosphere in terms of the nitrogen cycle.

 

Soil and the Carbon Cycle (Cycle A)
This site will help you make connections between the atmosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere in terms of the carbon cycle.

 

Soils Basics (Cycle A)
This site will give you an overview of the basic elements of soil composition, profiles, soil properties, and crop values.

 

Ward's Science (Cycle A)
Soil test kits can be ordered from this vendor. Purchase the Rapid Test kits.

 

Crop rotation (on the farm) (Cycle B)
This document provides a farmer with "How To" information about crop rotation on the farm.

 

Crop rotation (organic crop production) (Cycle B)
This is a very informative and lengthy page about organic crop production. Crop rotation is just one small part of the document. It contains lots of excellent information.

 

Sustainable Soil Management (Cycle B)
This site contains a information for soil sustainability, including soil formation and maintenance. It presents many options for increasing soil productivity without the application of man-made fertilizers.

 

USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (Cycle B)
From the homepage of the USDA NASS, you can search for different types of information. To obtain statistics specifically about your state, select your state from the drop-down box at the bottom of the list in the gray box at the left of the page. This takes you to the main page for your state. For information about the crops that are grown in your county, select Profiles State and County. On the state map on the next page, select your county. You will be asked to download a PDF file. This profile contains a list of the crops that are grown in your county.

 

K-12 Teaching Activities and Resources by Dr. Dirt (Cycle C)
This website contains a variety of investigations that can be used as starting points for designing your investigations for Cycle C.

 

Transitioning to Organic Production Bulletin (Cycle C)
This publication by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education presents numerous case stories of farmers' transition to organic agriculture.

 

Sample Investigations:

 

Color me WET! (Cycle A)
This activity is from "WOW! The Wonders of Wetlands" and teaches the basics of soil color identification while providing your students with a low-cost, accurate soil color chart for future use.
Evironmental Concern
P.O. Box P
201 Boundary Lane
St. Michaels, MD 21663
Difficulty: beginner

 

Sample Unit Plan (Cycle A)
This series of investigations was developed by a team of high school teachers in Kentucky: Ms. Theresa Bartlett, Ms. Tammy Collins, Ms. Arlinda Fannin, and Ms. Tabitha Mason. It is designed to be taught as a 3-4 week unit within the context of the scenario as the overriding term project. It was field-tested with over a hundred high school students.

We recommend completing the cycle A activities with cycle A.
Difficulty: intermediate
To adapt this for beginners, you may choose to provide soil samples rather than having students collect soil samples. You should plan for extra time in the computer lab for students to explore their soils. Rather than having beginners make causal chains during their ESS analysis, we recommend concept-mapping.

 

Soil Science With Dr. Dirt (Cycle A)
This site contains a variety of soil science lesson plans from Dr. Dirt (Dr. Clay Robinson, West Texas A&M University). We recommend the following activities be completed during cycle A:
1) Mini soil profile;
2) Nutrient uptake activity with carnations.
Difficulty: beginner

 

Sample Unit Plan (Cycle B)
This series of investigations was developed by a team of high school teachers in Kentucky: Ms. Theresa Bartlett, Ms. Tammy Collins, Ms. Arlinda Fannin, and Ms. Tabitha Mason. It is designed to be taught as a 3-4 week unit within the context of the scenario as the overriding term project. It was field-tested with over a hundred high school students.

We recommend completing cycle B activities with cycle B.
Difficulty: beginner

 

Soil Science with Dr. Dirt (Cycle B)
This site contains a variety of soil science lesson plans from Dr. Dirt (Dr. Clay Robinson, West Texas A&M University). We recommend the following activities be completed during cycle B:
1) Kentucky Soil, it's worth protecting;
2) On-line video - Dr. Dirt: soils, water, ecosystems, and aquifers.
Difficulty: beginner

 

Sample Unit Plan (Cycle C)
This series of investigations was developed by a team of high school teachers in Kentucky: Ms. Theresa Bartlett, Ms. Tammy Collins, Ms. Arlinda Fannin, and Ms. Tabitha Mason. It is designed to be taught as a 3-4 week unit within the context of the scenario as the overriding term project. It was field-tested with over a hundred high school students.

We recommend completing cycle C activities during cycle C.
Difficulty: beginner

 

Sustainable Agriculture (Cycle C)
This lesson plan from NAAE (National Association for Agricultural Education) teaches the basics of sustainable agriculture, including crop rotation.
Difficulty: intermediate

 

Sustainable Agriscience (Cycle C)
This is a second lesson plan from NAAE. This one is more in-depth than the first, but assumes less prior knowledge.
Difficulty: beginner

 

 

Standards:

  • Science
    National Science Education Standards - Science Content Standards http://www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/nses/html/overview.html#content The science content standards outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do in the natural sciences over the course of K-12 education.
    • GRADES 5-8 CONTENT STANDARDS
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Structure of the earth system
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Populations, resources, and environments
        • Risks and benefits
    • GRADES 9-12 CONTENT STANDARDS
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Geochemical cycles
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Natural resources
        • Environmental quality
        • Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges
  • Geography
    Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 1994
    • THE WORLD IN SPATIAL TERMS
      Geography studies the relationships between people, places, and environments by mapping information about them into a spatial context. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective
    • PLACES AND REGIONS
      The identities and lives of individuals and people are rooted in particular places and in those human constructs called regions. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The physical and human characteristics of places
    • ENVIRONMENT AND SOCIETY
      The physical environment is modified by human activities, largely as a consequence of the ways in which human societies value and use Earth’s natural resources, and human activities are also influenced by Earth’s physical features and processes. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources
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