Activities for Module II, Corn, Beans, and Burgers
Activities for Section D: The Economics of Field Crop Production
Economics Activity 1: What’s the Bottom Line?
Purpose: Students will explore the interaction of various factors affecting the profitability of field crops.
Advance preparation: Present information on factors affecting profitability, including costs of production, yield, price, and government payments, to students. Print out a spreadsheet for typical crop production costs from http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/. For typical organic production costs, see Table 2 at http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM1982.pdf. Make copies for the students
Estimated time: 15 to 50 minutes
- Re-visit the case study or studies from Section B of this module. 15 minutes. Ask student groups to discuss how the costs might be different for farmers in the sustainable case studies they looked at. Do the sustainable practices in the case studies raise some production costs? Do they lower some costs? Which ones and why? Do the sustainable practices affect yield and/or price? Do they affect government subsidies?
- Compare different scenarios. 35 minutes. If students have computer access, they can enter cost, yield, and return figures from different scenarios into the spreadsheets and see how profitability changes. If students do not have computer access, the instructor can generate a set of blank spreadsheets based on different assumptions, and students can use hand calculators to compute profits.
Suggested scenarios to compare:
- Conventional corn and soybeans, 2002 farm bill commodity payments
- Organic corn, soybeans, alfalfa; 2002 farm bill CSP and commodity payments
- Sustainable corn, soybeans, and alfalfa, government payments
- Conventional corn and soybeans, no government payments
- Organic corn, soybeans, alfalfa; no government payments
- Other scenarios, especially if they relate to real examples
Discuss findings: conventional corn and soybeans break even or lose money most years, without government payments. Small grains and hay make some money, but when government payments are taken into account, they are less profitable than corn and soybeans. Need to look at prices over time, individual years can vary substantially. These spreadsheets are based on average costs, individual farm costs vary.
Economics activity 2: Food inequality
Treat your class to a variation of a hunger banquet.
Purpose: Students will learn about unequal access to food in the US.
Advance preparation: Purchase snack materials for each student in the class (see below). Package snacks in paper bags so they look the same.
Estimated time: 15 to 20 minutes
- Distribute the snacks to the students. Give two or three students a rich person’s snack (for example fresh organic fruit and a fine pastry or chocolate).
- Give a third of the students a healthy middle class snack (for example crackers or bread, cheese, and carrot sticks)
- Give a third of the students an unhealthy middle class snack (for example donuts or cookies and soda)
- Give the rest of the students a poor snack (for example nothing or one piece of gum or half a cracker. You can use crumpled newspaper to stuff the bag)
- Begin the discussion with these questions: Which snack would the students prefer? Why? Ask them to rank the snacks in order of what they think their cost is. Which snack do they think would satiate them (fill them up) the most? Which snacks are most nutritious?
- Let the class know what each of the snacks cost. Have the class discuss how this roughly represents food security in the US: about ten to twenty percent of the people can afford the finest foods (fresh, organic, carefully prepared), most people can easily afford enough food, but there are a lot of unhealthy options out there, and some people cannot afford enough food. Also, some poor people buy non-nutritious fattening foods because they are relatively cheap and very filling.
- Use the activity as a lead-in to present the information on hunger and obesity in the US in the background / lesson.
- Optional. Ask the students what might be done to solve the problem of hunger in the US.
- Would producing more food solve the problem?
- Can private charity such as food pantries solve the problem?
- Do government food programs such as school lunches and food stamps solve the problem?
- Are there other approaches students can suggest?
- Optional. Ask students what might be done to address obesity in the US?
The 13-minute VHS video “The Line” features interviews with people seeking food assistance. You can borrow a copy through your local Wisconsin Extension office (Media Collection catalog # 18803).
Typically hunger banquets are used to educate people about world-wide inequalities in food access. For information on this type of hunger banquet see http://www.oxfamamerica.org/publications/art1104.html. Organizing such an event could be an excellent FFA activity.
Extra credit activity
Look up a local newspaper from 20 years ago. (Newspapers from that time may be on microfilm in the local library, or the student may have to contact the local newspaper directly) What wages do the want ads offer? What is the cost for renting a 2-bedroom apartment? What is the cost for a new car? A 5-year old used car?
Compare those numbers with the figures in a local newspaper from today. Have all those numbers gone up the same percentage, or have some gone up more than others? What other costs would it be important to compare?