Bundle 6: Climate

Tier 2, Part B: Adapting Agriculture

Tier 2, Part B: Adapting Agriculture


The goal of Tier 2 is to have students investigate local climate issues, using real-world data.


The goal of Tier 2 is to have students investigate local climate issues, using real-world data. Students will begin with a guided example, with a predetermined question, where they will investigate what is happening, what are potential causes, what impacts are associated with those causes, and finally, how can/should we respond?  A guided template is below, including resources, to help students with the first iteration. At the conclusion of this guided inquiry investigation, students will branch off into an open investigation. Students will be given a range of investigations to explore and learn about, including an open option if the student has an area of interest that is not included in the examples. They will work in jigsaw groups with the later goal of making a consensus statement, supported by the data, which will add to an overall climate statement.

Big questions:

  • What conditions do plants need to grow?
  • What determines the growing season for crops?
  • Have growing conditions changed in Iowa over the past 100 years?

Standards addressed:

MS-ESS2-4 Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth’s systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.
MS-ESS2-5 Collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses results in changes in weather conditions.
MS-ESS2-6 Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates.
MS-ESS3-2 Analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and inform the development of technologies to mitigate their effects.
MS-ESS3-3 Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
MS-ESS3-4 Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems.
MS-ESS3-5  Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

Tier in depth:

What conditions do plants need to grow? What determines the growing season for crops?

Background Knowledge: There are many factors that affect the rate at which plants grow. There are genetic factors within the plants themselves that set the stage for growth, and there are environmental factors that interact with the growing plant to either aid or harm the growth of the plant. Within these environmental factors, there are biotic and abiotic factors. The biotic factors are the living components of the environment that exist alongside the growing plant. The abiotic factors, those which we are interested in today, can be considered climate factors, and these include the nonliving parts of the environment. This includes things like soil, precipitation, humidity, sunlight, temperature, and carbon dioxide in the air. These qualities form an interplay that not only affects the growth rate of plants, but also affects the time of the year they should be planted or harvested. Iowa produces over 10 billion dollars worth of agricultural exports each year. As the climate shifts, there have been changes to the agricultural norms in regards to what weather conditions you can expect at certain times of the growing season, as well as a small increase in the length of the growing season itself. Understanding these changes is important to make any needed adjustments to maximize the agricultural land use in Iowa.

Probing Question: Have growing conditions changed in Iowa over the past 100 years? Collect information to determine your answer to this question, using real-world data.

There is a very slight increase in the total average precipitation for Iowa state for the past 100 years. Growing conditions have improved over the past 100 years, but it is mostly due to the longer growing season, not the larger amount of precipitation.

Investigation: One option is to look at the number of frost free days in Iowa. How does frost affect the growth of plants?

Answer: Very poorly in Iowa’s case. Farmers and gardeners alike, who wish to maximize the growing season, have to wait for the frost of Winter to officially leave before planting in the spring. The soil has to be warm enough for the seeds to germinate and take root, but if you cut it too close to the beginning of the season, a final frost could kill the seeds and stop growth just as it starts. Another factor to look at, is extending the growing season through the end of fall, which allows for later planting of crops, longer growing periods, and multiple growing periods fit into a single season.


  1. Go to https://mesonet.agron.iastate.edu/plotting/auto/

  2. Make plot #10 in the “yearly” section.

  3. Go to “select station” and alter it to somewhere “local” to you

  4. Under the “which metric to plot” change it to “Last Spring/First Fall Temperature Below Threshold”

  5. “Threshold” should be 32 (Signify freeze which impacts plant growth)

  6. Select “Make Plot with Options”

  • Scroll down to see graph of the data

  • Discuss and analyze

Planting Data from 1996:


Climate Change Impacts on Iowa 2010:


This graphic shows why people are hard to convince that increasing temperatures are a bad thing, but they fail to look at graphs like the one above it.

Source: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center

Increasing temperature will eventually be too high and be counter productive

Source: Globalchange.net (Midwest National Climate Assessment)

The graph below shows Iowa as the nation’s leader in pig production.  Nardone et. al and Rojas-Downing et. al. show higher temperatures negatively affects ‘production (growth, meat and milk yield and quality, egg yield, weight, and quality) and reproductive performance, metabolic and health status, and immune response.’  How will Iowa farmers have to respond to continue leading the nation in pork production?

Conclusion: We concluded that the most beneficial factor that we have experienced in Iowa is the extended growing seasons, which results in higher crop yields.