Career Cultivation: Specialty Crop Manager


Target Grade Level / Age Range:

High School (9-12)


Activity 1: 30 minutes

Activity 2: 30 minutes

Activity 3: 90 minutes


In this lesson students learn what a crop manager is, their duties and review skills a crop manager uses. Students implement their learning by participating in an activity that challenges them to make decisions while managing crops and reflecting throughout.


Computer or laptop

Writing utensil

Blank paper

Essential Files:

Crop Manager Career Poster

Printed Crop Cards (print single sided)

  • The 1st card for each crop will be given to students at the beginning of the simulation. The 2nd card will be given to students towards the end of the simulation when prompted.

Printed and cut out Crop Manager Situation Cards (5 sets – print double sided flip on short edge)

Crop Manager Job Description

Crop Manager Career Video


Viticulture: The cultivation and harvesting of grapes.

Crop Manager: A person responsible for all stages of plant growth including planting, fertilizing, watering, and harvesting crops.

Grading: A post-harvest practice that involves classifying the harvested crop into categories based on their quality.

Background – Agricultural Connections (what would a teacher need to know to be able to teach this content)

A crop manager, also known as an agricultural manager, is someone hired by a farm or cooperative to oversee their plants, equipment, fields, and personnel. A large portion of a crop manager's duties take place during the planting, growing, and harvest seasons. This includes finding land, planting, fertilizing, weed and pest control, harvesting, grading crops, record keeping, ordering seeds and more While the winters are typically a slower time for crop managers, they still have work to do which includes equipment maintenance and planning for the upcoming season.

When someone is a crop manager, they have many choices to make including the specific type of the crop they are growing, when to harvest, when to plant, the amount of personnel needed, equipment, field maintenance needed, additives such as fertilizer and pesticides, etc.

Pumpkins are a member of the Cucurbita genus along with cucumbers, melons, and squash. The term pumpkin is used to describe a winter squash with a hard rind and its roughly round with an orange or yellow color. They are grown in all 50 states. The top states in pumpkin production are Illinois, Indiana, California, Michigan, Virginia, and Texas. Depending on the variety, pumpkins can range in size from less than 1 pound to over 1,000 pounds. Anything above 25 pounds is considered a “giant” pumpkin. Although pumpkins are typically seen as a seasonal crop, the per capita use of pumpkin was 6.44 pounds per person in 2020. Each year there are more than 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkin harvested in the United States. As of 2020, Iowa ranked 27 in pumpkin production with 919 acres harvested across 355 producers.

Apples are one of the most valuable fruit crops in the United States. In 2021 more than 10.5 billion pounds of apples were harvested. Currently, 32 states produce apples with the top states being Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, and Virginia. The United States is the world's 2nd largest producer of apples behind China. The per capita consumption of apples in the United States is 26.3 pounds per person. In 2020 Iowa ranked outside of the top 25 states in apple production with 943 acres grown across 428 producers.

Grapes are currently the highest value fruit crop in the United States. The total value of grapes in the United States is estimated to be over $6.5 billion with almost 1 million acres and over 6 million tons produced in 2021. California accounted for 5.75 million tons of the total US grape production. During the most recent count Iowa has over 100 wineries and more than 250 commercial vineyards totaling 1,300+ acres of land.

Sunflowers are a common flower produced in the United States. They can be used for the whole flower, the seeds, or turned into an oil. In 2020, the United States produced 2.4 billion pounds of sunflowers which were grown on 1.4 million acres. Most of the sunflower production in the United States takes place in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Texas. The remaining states that grow sunflowers typically have operations that grow sunflowers in small numbers or as a part of fall attractions like pumpkin patches and apple orchards.

Tomatoes that are grown in the Unted states are harvested for a variety of products including soup, salsa, sauces, and more. In 2020, the United States produced 14 million tons of tomatoes across 400,000 acres. Of the 14 million tons produced, 12 million tons were processed into various products. California is currently the top tomato producer, followed by Florida, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

Interest Approach – Engagement:

  1. Have students answer the following questions individually:
    • If you were going to start a farm, what kind of crops would you grow? Why?
    • What decisions would you have to make about your farm?
    • What outside influences will affect your farm?
  1. Ask for examples from the questions that students answered earlier. As students are giving examples write each item on the board.
    • Examples
      • Corn, soybeans, alfalfa, etc.
      • What to plant, when to plant, when to harvest, etc.
      • Weather, prices and inflation, diseases and fungus, etc.
  2. Once the board is beginning to get full, explain to students that these are all things that crop managers must consider.



Activity 1: What is a Crop Manager?

  1. Have students break into small groups and categorize the examples written on the board into the following categories which encompass the main areas a crop manager oversees.
    • Land management
    • Planting
    • Fertilizing, weeding, and pest control.
    • Harvesting
    • Record keeping
      • If there is anything the groups feel is important to the categories but was not written on the board, they can add it under the category now.
  2. Once groups have categorized the board's examples, each group creates a one- to two-sentence description of what a crop manager is.
  3. As a class, watch the crop manager video.
  4. After the video, have the groups review the crop manager career poster and add any additional responsibilities they saw in the video to their list and update their description of crop manager.

Activity 2: Crop Manager Skills

  1. Have students work in small groups to create a list of skills a crop manager needs.
  2. Have students look at the sample row crop manager job description.
    • This is a real crop manager job description for the row crop manager position at Summit Agricultural Group in Alden, Iowa.
  3. Each student should find three skills, traits, or requirements in the description that they possess or can develop then create a plan of how they can further develop that skill or requirement.
    • Example:   Skill - Managing a team
      • Get involved in leadership roles
      • Practice time management and organization skills
      • Take classes related to business and team management
  4. Discuss with students the examples of skills, traits, and requirements they pulled from the description. Explain that crop managers have a position that is extremely broad with a wide variety of tasks and projects. There is not one type of person who would do well as a crop manager and what the position looks like will be different across every farm and operation. You can also explain that while crop managers can oversee many different types of crops, many of the skills are very similar no matter which type of crop they are overseeing.
    • Examples:
      • If someone prefers small teams and the ability to assist in different roles a smaller farm with a small team may be a good fit for them.
      • If someone likes structure and a clear list of tasks that need to be done a research farm may be a good fit.
  5. Have each student create a claim stating why they would be a successful crop manager.
    • Students should use evidence from the video, job description, career poster, and class discussion to back their claim.  


Activity 3: Be a Crop Manager: Can you survive the season?

Phase 1: Introduction to your Crop
  1. Split students into groups of 2-4.
  2. Have each group choose one of the premade crop cards (groups should only receive the 1st card that has the crops name and information on it at this point.)
    • Pumpkins
    • Apples
    • Grapes
    • Tomatoes
    • Sunflowers
      • Each card has information that is specific to that crop. 
  3. Have the groups review their crop cards.
      • The groups should take note of anything specific to their crop that will affect the choices they make.
        • Example questions that students may ask about their cards.
          • Is there expensive equipment required to grow this crop?
          • Is this a labor-intensive crop?
          • Are there any choices that can be made that may affect the group's budget? 
          • Do you have to repurchase seeds each year?
Phase 2: Determining Costs and Profits
  1. Each team will have a field size of 5 acres.
  2. Each team should look through the front side of their card and determine the following.
    • Total labor cost
    • Seed cost
    • The number of crops that would be grown and harvested  
    • Profit from selling the crop 
    • Total equipment cost
    • Base profit ((Price the crop would sell for) – (labor cost) – (seed cost) – (equipment cost))
      • There is an answer key for these calculations in the essential files.
  3. These calculations should be kept on a single document and will act as the group's record book for their simulated season. (Can be electronic or pen and paper)
    • An electronic record book is typically kept using programs like Word or Excel. A handwritten record book is typically kept in a notebook. 
Phase 3: Simulating a Growing Season
  1. Each group should draw 5 random cards from the situation card deck. 
  2. As each card gets pulled, teams document what the card was and what effect it had on their crop. If there are calculations included in the card outcome they should be completed and included in the effects. These records should be kept in the group's record book.
    • Example: If the card, “Oh no, it snowed!” is drawn by the sunflower group they would document it as: 
      • Card: Oh no, it snowed!
      • Effect: 10% of plants are lost (initial # of plants: 90,000, 10% is 9,000, # of crops after the card is 81,000)
    • Moving forward, the group will use the most recent numbers (total remaining crops, market price, etc.) for all future calculations.
  3. After the situation cards are completed and documented, the teams receive the 2nd card about their crop to see if their choices had any effect on their plants. Those effects should be documented in their record book.
  4. Students will then harvest their crops and “sell” the remaining crops for the most recent market price they calculated.
  5. Groups calculate the following after harvest:
    • Number of plants remaining
    • Total sale price of remaining plants and updated market price
    • Total equipment cost including any maintenance costs
    • Profit (sale price of plants – labor cost – seed cost – equipment cost)
  6. Based on the profit each group has calculated, they need to determine if they can re-purchase seed for the next season and perform winter field maintenance, which costs $10,000.
    • Teams that can re-purchase seed and perform winter field maintenance stay open for another year. 
    • Teams that ended the season with insufficient funds to purchase seed or perform field maintenance have to close the farm and not operate the following season. 
  7. Once all teams have finished their simulation, bring the class back together and share about their crop and experience throughout the simulation. Then use for a discussion the following questions to help guide the class discussion:
    • After hearing about the outcomes from other groups, do you wish you had received a different crop? Why?
    • After seeing how your choices impacted the land you were given, do you think that farmers focus more on their crops and the value they provide or their land and taking care of it? Why?
    • Is there a way you could have increased the market price of your crop?
    • Are there other products that can be created from your crop to sell for a higher price in the future?


  1. Each student will put together a reflection on their simulation as a crop manager using the following reflection questions: 
    • Looking back at the simulation, are there any choices you would have made differently? Why or why not?
    • During the simulation you saw that different crops had different outcomes just like in real life. Do you think the amount of challenge a crop provides impacts the number of people who choose to grow it? 
    • Farmers record weather patterns and events that impact their crops and use data from weather services to predict crop challenges during a season. If you had the opportunity to know what each event card said before they were drawn, how might it have impacted your group's decisions?
    • How could your group increase the value of your crop? Do you think the input cost would be worth the time and profit?
    • Using your new experience, reflect on the claim you created earlier about your ability to be a crop manager. What additional skills would be helpful in being a successful crop manager? 

Extension Activities:

  • Have students complete the simulation again using a different crop and compare the production of the two.
  • Have students create a value-added product, marketing plan, and label using their crop.



Alyson McCarty

Organization Affiliation

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes:

T1.9-12.D. Discuss the value of agricultural land.

T5.9-12.D  Describe essential agricultural careers related to production, consumption, and regulation.

Iowa Core Standards:


W.9-10.1.e. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented. (DOK 3,4)

W.11-12.1.e. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented. (DOK 3,4)