CROP*4220 Cropping Systems

course node page

The following description is for the course offering in Winter 2023 and is subject to change. It is provided for information only. The course outline distributed to the class at the beginning of the semester describes the course content and delivery, and defines the methods and criteria to be used in establishing the final grades for the course.

This course will cover the design of cropping systems for specific livestock, poultry and cash crop enterprises; integration of all factors affecting crop yields, quality and economy of production such as choice and interchangeability of crops, crop sequence, tillage, pest control, seasonal work programming, harvesting, drying and storage.

Pre- Requisites: (1 of CROP*3300, CROP*3310, CROP*3340), (1 of AGR*2320, ENVS*3080, ENVS*4090, ENVS*4160)

Welcome to Cropping Systems! In this course we will learn a version of crop science that takes into account the interplay between i) the management decisions farmers make (individual agency) and ii) the larger structural forces beyond farmer control (e.g. climate, soil type, commodity prices). Together, the interaction between these two variables results in a cropping system. In this course we will analyze the design of cropping systems for specific livestock, poultry and cash crop enterprises. We will discuss the major factors that affect crop yields, quality and economy of production such as choice and interchangeability of crops, crop sequence, tillage, pest control, cover crops, harvesting, drying and storage. The goal of this course is to develop a mental toolkit and habits of mind to assist you in agriculture-related careers.


Teaching Assistant:

Credit Weight:


Course Level:

  • Undergraduate

Academic Department (or campus):

Department of Plant Agriculture



Semester Offering:

  • Winter

Class Schedule and Location:

Tuesday Lecture: Delivered asynchronously (on your own time). Material available on CourseLink (pre-recorded lecture video links, etc).

Wednesday Lab:

  • In-person on campus. Wednesday labs are not recorded. Wednesday labs will occur most but not every week
  • Time and location of Wednesday lab: 11:30 AM to 1:20 PM in MACS 129

Thursday Lecture (discussion-based):

  • In-person on campus. Thursday discussions are not recorded (whether online or in-person).
  • Time and Location of Thursday Lecture (in-person on campus after Jan 24): 1:00 PM to 2:20 PM in MACN 118

Learning outcomes:

At the end of this course, students should be able to:
  1. Explain causes of complexity, diversity and dynamics of field crop production systems.
  2. Identify and describe components of crop production, including how these components are organized and optimized into a production system given constraining factors such as climate, soil type, livestock, species adaptation and morphology, and economics.
  3. Analyze how these components and their interactions influence resource use efficiency, crop physiology, soil properties, carbon balances, the nitrogen cycle, water and air quality and identify feedback mechanisms that producers can manipulate to improve system productivity.
  4. Explain how the above production systems concepts are currently utilized in Ontario, as well as systems used in Western Canada, the US Midwest and other developed and developing regions of the world. 
  5. Find accurate and authentic information, synthesize it, and apply it to real-world problems.


Lecture Content:

 Topics to be covered in lectures include:
  • Definition of cropping systems - goals and objectives / overview of factors affecting cropping system choice
  • Is Agronomy a Science? Hard inference/ The D-Q problem in agriculture/Case Studies
  • Genotypes in Agriculture: Mechanisms of yield improvement of corn and soybeans varieties in Ontario, oats in Finland and Australia (comparison).
  • Genotypes over time and space: Crop rotation, intercropping
  • Environment (Climate): water budgets, radiation, temperature, photothermal quotient. Climate comparisons between Ontario, Prairies, Great Plains, Mid-West USA.
  • Environment (Soil): Carbon and nutrient cycling, new understanding of soil organic matter formation, role of soil organic matter in cropping system productivity.
  • Fundamentals of crop physiology: Review of key features of crop physiology that dictates appropriate crop management.
  • Management Case Studies: Management choices in Ontario crop production, interactions with genotype and environment.
  • Technology: Law of Technology and applications in agriculture
  • Grain Quality: Review of grain quality
  • Climate Change: Review of impacts of climate change on temperate cropping systems, emphasis on grain quality
  • Ontario Case Studies: Wheat and corn quality issues in Ontario
  • How to Read a Scientific Paper: How to read agronomy papers.
Labs & Seminars:


Course Assignments and Tests:

Assignment or Test Contribution to Final Grade Learning Outcomes Assessed
Participation Discussions
Group Discussion Leaders 25%  
Weekly Quiz on CourseLink 20%  
Midterm 10% 1, 2
Final Exam - Take Home
1, 2, 3, 4
Wednesday Lab (Participation & Assessment 15%  
TOTAL 100%  
Participation in Thursday Discussion's (20%)
Date: Thursday, January 12, 2023 1pm - Thursday, April 6, 1pm MACN 118
In-person activity-based and discussion-based seminars (Thursdays) and labs (most Wednesdays) will occur weekly. Labs and seminars will be participatory and based on the asynchronous learning material provided earlier in the week. Specific activities will vary weekly. One example of a participatory activity in the seminar is being randomly assigned to a small 'breakout' group, and as a group answer some pre-made discussion questions. We will then reconvene as a class to discuss our answers. This is an individual mark and you will be graded in terms of the quality of your contributions. If you do the assigned readings/watch assigned lectures every week, show up to class, have a couple of thoughtful things to say, and engage respectfully (agreeing or disagreeing) with classmates, you will do absolutely fine. I will let you know in the first month of class if you are doing well or need to improve.
It is important to note we are having a discussion. If you state your opinion or observations as "this is the way it is" without considering other points of view, then you are closing off the discussion. There are always a couple of 21-year-olds in class who, amazingly, already know all there is to know about agriculture! They grace the class with their wisdom, bestowing the capital T-truth about the topic at hand (tillage, cover crops). These students are always surprised later when they receive a poor grade. The point is to both share your observations and knowledge, but also to promote discussion and critical thought!
Group Discussion Leaders (25%)
Agronomy relies on science as a method of inquiry and as a body of knowledge. However, agronomy also requires a strong understanding of how farms work, an understanding of economics, and practical experience (observing crops and impact of management, etc). As such, we all have something to learn from each other, as this is a group with a diverse skillset and background in crop production. After Reading Week, groups of seven or eight students will begin delivering seminars on relevant topics. The groups, and specific seminar topics, will be decided on the first week of classes based on student interest.
Groups will be responsible for developing asynchronous learning materials and leading the on-campus in-person weekly seminar. Prof. Nasielski will provide a 40-50 minute pre-recorded lecture each week covering theory and scientific knowledge of the topic, and will assist each group with seminar delivery and production of materials. Each group will be responsible for the following asynchronous learning materials: one (1) asynchronous pre-recorded lecture (15-20 minutes), one (1) reading of a scientific article, and development of article summary (1 page), and one (1) Q&A with an industry expert (minimum 20 minutes) that can be pre-recorded or done live in the seminar. Groups will also be responsible for leading the weekly seminar and delivering: two or three (2-3) participatory class activities based on the lectures or reading assignments (30-40 minutes each), one (1) Q&A with industry leader (if not pre-recorded).
All groups will meet with Prof. Nasielski 4 weeks prior to the seminar date and again 1 week prior to the seminar date to discuss and strategize. More details can be found in the rubric for this assessment. The first five lectures of this course will demonstrate the way these group discussions should be led and the way the types of activities that should be done.
This is a group mark, but individual marks can be adjusted if components of the project varied in their quality. While all group members are expected to contribute to as many aspects of the project as possible, very strong or very weak parts of the project will result in changes in individual grades. More information is found in the rubric on CourseLink.
Weekly Quiz on CourseLink (20%)
Date: Weekly, Online
Every week after Thursday's class, an online quiz will be released on CourseLink for you to complete. It will be due Wednesday morning at 10:30 AM. Cognitive science indicates that re-testing yourself on material you've learned over expanding intervals allows you to cheaply and reliably commit huge volumes of information to long-term memory. This is the impetus of weekly tests.
In total 10 quizzes will be provided (no quiz on reading week and final week of classes). Each quiz is worth 2.5% of your final grade. Your lowest scoring quiz is dropped when calculating your final grade, and you do not write the quiz the week your group is leading the seminar discussion. So only 8 quizzes are used to calculate final grades.
SH** Happens Clause: You can invoke the clause on one quiz at any time before the due date by emailing me. Once invoked, you are granted an immediate 3-day extension on the quiz. No explanation required.
Midterm (10%)
Learning Outcome: 1, 2
Take-home midterm will be delivered after class on February 13 and will be due on February 17.
Final Exam (Take-Home) (15%)
Date: Thu, Apr 13, 1:00 PM - Tues, Apr 18, 11:59 PM, Take-Home
Learning Outcome: 1, 2, 3, 4
The take-home exam will be made available on April 13 and due on April 18.
Wednesday Lab Attendance and Exercise Completion (15%)
Date:  Wed, Jan 18, 11:30 AM - Wed, Apr 5, 1:20 PM, MACS 129

Wednesday labs will occur most weeks. They will be used for teaching specific skills, or for guest lectures. For guest lectures, students are graded on attendance. For labs teaching specific skills, students will be graded on deliverables that are explained at the start of the lab. Deliverables will either be due in-lab or several days after the lab.

Students will be notified when a Wednesday lab is not occurring.

Final examination:

Final exam (Take Home) 

There will be a take-home final exam for this course (open book). The take-home exam will be distributed the last day of class (Thursday April 13 2023) and will be due on CourseLink on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.

Course Resources:

Required Texts:
Online Journal Articles (Article)
Various scientific articles will be required for reading during class. Exact articles will be decided upon by class, from reputable journals such as Agronomy Journal, Canadian Journal of Plant Science, Field Crops Research, etc. Articles assigned for reading will be posted on CourseLink in the relevant week.
CourseLink and Zoom (Website) (Software)
We will be using two websites and software to learn remotely: CourseLink and Zoom. The use of these resources is free for U of G students. To help ensure you have the best learning experience possible, please review the list of system and software requirements: You are responsible for ensuring that your computer system meets the necessary system requirements.
Online Resources (Website)
Various online media (podcasts, YouTube videos) may be required by the course and for student presentations. Specific media will be assigned during class. Links to the online media will be provided on CourseLink
Other Resources:

Additional readings consisting primarily of peer-reviewed journal articles will be provided on CourseLink.

Additional Costs:


Course Policies:

Course Policy regarding use of electronic devices and recording of lectures:

Presentations that are made in relation to course work - including lectures - cannot be recorded or copied without the permission of the presenter, whether the instructor, a student, or guest lecturer. Material recorded with permission is restricted to use for that course unless further permission is granted.

Other Course Information:

University Policies

Academic Consideration

When you find yourself unable to meet an in-course requirement because of illness or compassionate reasons, please advise the course instructor in writing, with your name, id#, and e-mail contact. See the academic calendar for information on regulations and procedures for Academic Consideration:

Academic Misconduct

The University of Guelph is committed to upholding the highest standards of academic integrity and it is the responsibility of all members of the University community, faculty, staff, and students  to be aware of what constitutes academic misconduct and to do as much as possible to prevent academic offences from occurring.

University of Guelph students have the responsibility of abiding by the University's policy on academic misconduct regardless of their location of study; faculty, staff and students have the responsibility of supporting an environment that discourages misconduct. Students need to remain aware that instructors have access to and the right to use electronic and other means of detection. Please note: Whether or not a student intended to commit academic misconduct is not relevant for a finding of guilt. Hurried or careless submission of assignments does not excuse students from responsibility for verifying the academic integrity of their work before submitting it. Students who are in any doubt as to whether an action on their part could be construed as an academic offence should consult with a faculty member or faculty advisor.

The Academic Misconduct Policy is detailed in the University Calenders:


The University of Guelph is committed to creating a barrier-free environment. Providing services for students is a shared responsibility among students, faculty and administrators. This relationship is based on respect of individual rights, the dignity of the individual and the University community's shared commitment to an open and supportive learning environment. Students requiring service or accommodation, whether due to an identified, ongoing disability or a short-term disability should contact the Student Accessibility Services (SAS), formerly Centre for Students with Disabilities (CSD), as soon as possible.

For more information, contact CSD at 519-824-4120 ext. 56208 or email or visit the Student Accessibility Services website:

Course Evaluation Information

Your ratings and comments are important.  Course evaluation data are used to assess and enhance the quality of teaching and student learning at the University of Guelph.  Student course ratings and comments are used as an important component in the Faculty Tenure & Promotion process, and as valuable feedback to help instructors improve their teaching effectiveness and to improve the delivery of the course.

Your responses will not affect your grade.  Course evaluation data are distributed to individual instructors after final grades have been submitted to the Registrar, following the completion of each academic semester.

Please be honest, respectful, constructive and thorough.  Instructors and review committees place great value on student course ratings and read all comments provided in course evaluations. It is helpful to provide comments on the strengths of the course, in addition to the areas for improvement.  Please refrain from personal comments unless they relate to teaching and learning.

Click here for the University of Guelph Course Evaluation System