Relevancy and Engagement

Journey 2050 Lesson 5: Land Use (Grades 9-12)

Grade Level
9 - 12

Students will recognize that arable land (ideal land for growing crops) is a limited resource, identify best management practices that can be applied to every stakeholder’s land-use decisions; and analyze and discuss the impacts of food waste on our environment. Grades 9-12

Estimated Time
30-45 minutes
Materials Needed

best management practices: methods that can improve efficiency, optimize resources, and prevent or help reduce pollution

habitat: the natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or other organism

population density: a measurement of population per unit area or unit volume

sustainable: meeting the economic, social, and environmental needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future

Did You Know?
  • Over 70% of Earth is covered in water and cannot be used to grow crops.1
  • Earth has 57 million square miles of land, but only 12 million square miles are arable (ideal conditions for growing crops).2
  • In North America one in four calories intended for consumption are never actually eaten because the food is lost as waste (refer to Lesson 1, activity 3 for more information on food waste).3
Background Agricultural Connections

Journey 2050 takes students on a virtual simulation that explores world food sustainability and answers the question, "How will we sustainably feed nearly 10 billion people by the year 2050?" The lesson plans and online simulation program allows students to make decisions on a virtual farm and witness their impact on society, the environment and the economy at a local and global scale. The lessons engage students with the important concepts regarding sustainable agriculture. The online simulation contextualizes these concepts as students experience the lives of three farm families in Kenya, India and Canada. As students interact with each family, they learn the role of best management practices in feeding the world, reducing environmental impacts, and improving social performance through greater access to education, medical care and community infrastructure. These lessons can be taught individually or as an entire unit. See the links below for the remaining lessons: 

Land is one of our most vital resources. We build our civilizations on it. It is habitat for thousands of species and a critical part of our ecosystem. We need land for agriculture, but how much land is actually available for us to sustainably grow the food, clothing and shelter we need?

The vast majority of Earth’s surface (over 70 percent) is water. This means that only 30 percent of Earth’s surface is land. Only a small portion of that land, 10 percent,1 is ideal for growing crops. However, with technology, innovation and best management practices, farmers can grow food on nearly 40 percent of the land.2 For example, on land that is not ideal because it is too wet for many crops, we can grow crops like rice that thrive in wet soil. On land that is too rocky to grow crops we can raise livestock that can adjust to the landscape. If we’re going to feed the world, we need to consider different ways to use Earth’s land to grow more food. For example, do we convert more land to farmland for agriculture, or do we use the land we currently have and focus on increasing crop yields?

We have the ability to influence how much land is used for things like agriculture, urban development, industry development, oil and gas, mining and forestry. The choices we make with the land can bring both social and economic benefits, ensuring sustainable development.

Achieving a sustainable balance requires a great deal of thought. For example, if you want to increase your agricultural land, what are you willing to give up? Natural habitats? Industries? Homes? Recreation? You could convert natural habitats to farmland, but there will be consequences. For example, the Amazon rainforest is home to thousands of unique living things, and it plays an important role in helping regulate the Earth’s atmosphere and ecosystem; these factors must be considered before converting the land to a different use. Before you decide what you’re going to change, it is important to consider how one choice about land use will impact another.

To feed the world sustainably, we will need to increase how much food we can produce on a given area of land. It is estimated that one hectare of productive agricultural land, roughly the size of two soccer fields, is lost every eight seconds.3 Growing more food on the land that is available to us is only possible through the use of best management practices.

Farmers can use best management practices to help ensure they grow foods sustainably. Precise application of crop nutrients, making sure crops are watered at the best time of day, planting shelter belts or hedge trees, and replenishing soil nutrients used by plants during growth are all examples of practices that can help grow more food on less land. Sometimes best management practices are costly, but they can have a positive impact on the environment, crop yields, economic growth and society.

The implementation of best practices on farmland and in urban areas will help us move toward our goal of becoming a more sustainable civilization. For example, expanding cities upward, rather than outward, allows for more homes on less land.

Land is the source of life, but it is limited. It cannot be replaced or constructed. We need to grow more food on existing land using best management practices so that we can sustainably maximize our land resources and address other issues related to land use choices.


This lesson has been adapted for online instruction and can be found on the Journey 2050 eLearning site.

  1. Open the Land Use slide deck.
  2. Begin by reminding students how many people are currently on planet Earth (7.6 billion in 2018) and that expert demographers are anticipating nearly 10 billion people by the year 2050 (
  3. Optional:  Remind students what one billion looks like by asking:
    • “If I give you one million dollars and you spend $1,000 every day when will you run out of money?” (2.7 years)
    • “How long would it take to spend a billion dollars if you spent $1,000 every day?” (2,740 years)
    • This mental exercise will help students to understand that 10 billion is a very large number.
  4. Slide 2: Ask students, “How can we feed the growing population?” Students will likely say that we need to grow/produce more food. Before you offer any additional information, conduct the following demonstration (the Apple Land Use Model can be used as an alternative demonstration option):
    • Step 1: Project the Slicing Up Earth's Land Resources Slide Deck. This slide deck provides step-by-step instructions in the notes section of the slides. It also provides images to help illustrate the type(s) of land discussed in each step. 
    • Step 2: Cut the apple into four equal wedges. Three of these quarters represent the oceans, which occupy 75% of Earth’s surface. Set these aside.
    • Step 3: The remaining quarter represents land area, which occupies 25% of Earth’s surface.
    • Step 4: Take this quarter (representing land), and cut it into three equal wedges, so you have three 1/12th sections. 
    • Step 5: Hold up one of the three sections. This piece represents inhospitable land including deserts, mountains, and polar regions. This land is not suitable for people to live or grow crops. 
    • Step 6: Hold up the other two sections and explain that they both represent habitable land. This is land where people can live and food can be grown. (Set one wedge down. It will be used in Step 7.)
    • Step 7: Hold up the second of the remaining wedges (representing land on Earth). Explain that this slice represents habitable land where people live, but crops are not grown. These lands include nature preserves, public lands, and developed areas like roads, schools, houses, etc.
    • Step 8: Hold up the last section. This section represents the Earth's agricultural land, all the land on Earth that is used to grow food.
    • Step 9: Cut this section crosswise into four equal pieces, so you have four 1/48th sections. Hold 3 sections up. This land is used for grazing or feed crops for livestock (poultry, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs). 
      Cattle, sheep, and goats spend the majority of their lives grazing grasses and other forages for feed. Their unique ruminant digestive system allows them to obtain nutrition from plants that other animals (or humans) cannot. Livestock animals also consume grain-based feeds consisting of field corn, soybeans, barley, oats, sorghum, etc. Step 8 of this activity illustrates the land used to feed the livestock that produce our meat, milk, eggs, and other animal-source products. More details can be found in the Earth's Land and Soil Resources lesson plan (be sure to see the Background Agricultural Connections section of the lesson).
    • Step 10: Hold up the remaining section of agricultural land. 1/48th of our earth is used to grow food crops for humans to eat. Examples include beans, fruits, vegetables, and grains.
  5. Ask students, “Can farmers simply plant more acres of crops to feed a growing population?” (No) Point out that the population may increase, but the amount of arable farmland will stay the same.
  6. We use our land for many different things, and we need to make smart choices to take care of the land. As a result of science and innovation, nearly 40 percent of Earth’s land is used for agriculture.1 Raising livestock on land that is too hilly or rocky for growing crops, growing urban gardens, and planting seeds that grow in tough conditions like drought are all ways to grow more food on the same amount of land.
  7. Explain that in order to feed 10 billion people, farmers will need to use best management practices, like preserving soil nutrients, improving water conservation and using arable land efficiently to grow the food, fiber, fuel and by-products that we use every day. This will need to be done in a sustainable way to minimize environmental impacts and maintain a high quality of life.

Three Dimensional Learning Proficiency: Disciplinary Core Ideas

Students are able to link key science concepts from the domains of science: physical science; life science; earth and space science; with problem solving (engineering) and the application of science through technology.

Earth and Space Science: The sustainability of human societies and the biodiversity that supports them requires responsible management of natural resources.

Explore and Explain

Preparation: Prior to class, review the Background Information, video clip and PowerPoint slides (including the speaker notes) associated with the lesson. Review the Teacher's Guide: Getting Started document for further information to prepare for class. 

Activity 1:

  1. Slide 4: Play the Journey 2050: Land Use video (4:41 min). Prepare students for the video by asking them to discover two things: 1) Why is land a precious resource? 2) How are best management practices applied to land use choices?  (Background and discussion prompts are outlined in the steps below and in the PowerPoint notes.) 
  2. Why is land a precious resource?
    • Slide 6: Ask, “What is our land used for?” (habitat, food, recreation, homes, industries, agriculture, etc.)  Explain that land is a precious resource. There are many things that influence how land is used and what it is used for.
    • Slide 7: Display the Worldometers website to show your class the live population statistics for the 20 largest countries in the world.
      • Note: India and China have nearly 40% of the population between the two countries (As of 2018, China has 1.415 billion people and India has 1.354 billion people making 2.769 billion or 36.28% of the world share (compared to the next largest population: USA [326,766] is in 3rd place and Canada [36,953,765] is 38th.)7
      • Optional: If time allows, challenge students to discover which of these countries has the highest and the lowest population density. (Russia has only 9 people per km2, and India has 452 people per km2.) Make it a race with a prize to see who can figure it out first. This statistic can be found on the Worldometers website by clicking on each individual country in the list Top 20 Largest Countries by Population.
    • Slides 8–9: Display the Population Statistics by Country Map and Agricultural Land Map, and ask students if they can see a relationship between human population and agricultural land. Students should recognize that we are building our homes and businesses in the areas that have the best climate and soil for growing crops! Historically, people have settled near water and fertile land in order to grow crops.  As cities grow the urban footprint expands into areas that are habitat and farmland.
    • Explain that farmers have increased yields (food production) by using improved practices, science and technology. For example, plant scientists have developed plants that are resistant to insects, disease and drought; soil scientists and land managers have developed soil conservation practices; and irrigation engineers have developed systems and delivery mechanisms to minimize water use and still grow a bountiful crop. Yields have constantly gone up. 
  3. How are best management practices applied to land use?
    • Slide 11: Ask, “How do we improve our land-use choices so that we can feed a growing world and still maintain a high quality of life and healthy environment?” We need to use best management practices (see the Best Management Practices video; 1:06 min). Best practices are simply the best way to do something. For example, in school, if you attend class, engage in the content and study, you will do well in the course. Similarly, we can also think about the best ways to use our land sustainably by preserving natural habitats, using agricultural best management practices and planning for urban growth. 
    • Slides 12: Open Level 5a of the Sustainability Farming Game on each student’s computer or device. Explain the following, “In this level, you will make predictions for the percentage of land used by nature, urban and agriculture in the 1900s compared to the year 2000”. Next, explore best management practices that each stakeholder should employ in our journey and come up with your own ideas that each could be implemented to make better land-use choices.
    • Slides 13–16: Review slides as a class and discuss the noted best management practices.

Three Dimensional Learning Proficiency: Crosscutting Concepts

Students link different domains of science fields into a coherent and scientifically-based view of the world.

Cause and Effect: Systems can be designed to cause a desired effect.

  • Using slide 19 of the Land Use PowerPoint, have students play the Journey 2050 Where in the World Geography Game. This is a Q&A style game that has clues embedded in each question. Print or project the Land Use Map (PowerPoint slide 9) and Country Comparison Map for a quick reference. Before the game begins, ask the students to think of their favorite foods, sports, music and places to travel as well as things that they love about their country. Explore where some of their favorite things come from and how trading goods around the world allows us to enjoy those things. Make sure the students are aware that in the game, spelling counts. The game takes about 15 minutes to complete.

  • Using slide 20 of the Land Use PowerPoint, distribute the Country Comparison Map and have students find similarities and differences in climate, topography, culture and food production across the globe.

  • Share the TedTalk by Allan Savory, How to Green the World's Deserts and Reverse Climate Change. This 22 minute talk discusses how and why fertile grasslands are changing into desert and how livestock can help. 


  • The Journey 2050 lessons provide an introduction to agricultural sustainability. Take a deeper dive into additional sustainability topics using the links found on the Sustainability page.


Review and summarize the following key concepts (Slide 17).

  • Three percent of the Earth (ten percent of the Earth’s land) is ideal for growing crops.
  • Most of our urban areas were built on ideal crop land. Our ancestors settled where they could grow food and cities grew from there.
  • The quality of the soil under our homes and businesses is the real challenge in the journey. The challenge also spreads to our natural areas. Protecting the Earth’s biodiversity and natural resources is vital to our survival.
  • Every land use decision we make has a consequence. Best management practices are essential in our journey to sustainably feed the world while balancing social, economic and environmental needs.

The Journey 2050 program was originally developed by Nutrien in collaboration with Calgary Stampede, Alberta Canola Producers Commission, Nutrients for Life Foundation, and Agriculture in the Classroom Canada. Authors and contributors were drawn from each of these organizations under the direction of Lindsey Verhaeghe (Nutrien) and Robyn Kurbel (Calgary Stampede.) The lessons were updated and revised in 2017 with contributions from the original J2050 Steering Committee, the National Center for Agricultural Literacy, and the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization.  

Lindsey Verhaeghe, Andrea Gardner, Debra Spielmaker, and Sara Hunt
Nutrien & National Center for Agricultural Literacy
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