Agricultural engineers attempt to solve agricultural problems concerning power supplies, the efficiency of machinery, the use of structures and facilities, pollution and environmental issues, and the storage and processing of agricultural products.

Duties

Agricultural engineers typically do the following:

  • Use computer software to design equipment, systems, or structures
  • Modify environmental factors that affect animal or crop production, such as airflow in a barn or runoff patterns on a field
  • Test equipment to ensure its safety and reliability
  • Oversee construction and production operations
  • Plan and work together with clients, contractors, consultants, and other engineers to ensure effective and desirable outcomes

Agricultural engineers work in farming, including aquaculture (farming of seafood), forestry, and food processing. They work on a wide variety of projects. For example, some agricultural engineers work to develop climate control systems that increase the comfort and productivity of livestock whereas others work to increase the storage capacity and efficiency of refrigeration. Many agricultural engineers attempt to develop better solutions for animal waste disposal. Those with computer programming skills work to integrate artificial intelligence and geospatial systems into agriculture. For example, they work to improve efficiency in fertilizer application or to automate harvesting systems.

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Work Environment

Agricultural engineers held about 2,600 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of agricultural engineers were as follows:

Crop production 31%
Federal government, excluding postal service 13
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state 10
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services
8
Engineering services 4

Agricultural engineers typically work in offices, but may spend time at a variety of worksites, both indoors and outdoors. They may travel to agricultural settings to see that equipment and machinery are functioning according to both the manufacturers’ specifications and federal and state regulations. Some agricultural engineers occasionally work in laboratories to test the quality of processing equipment. They may work onsite when they supervise livestock facility upgrades or water resource management projects.

Agricultural engineers work with others in designing solutions to problems or applying technological advances. They work with people from a variety of backgrounds, such as business, agronomy, animal sciences, and public policy.

Work Schedules

Agricultural engineers typically work full time. Schedules may vary because of weather conditions or other complications. When working on outdoor projects, agricultural engineers may work more hours to take advantage of good weather or fewer hours in case of bad weather.

In addition, agricultural engineers may need to be available outside of normal work hours to address unexpected problems that come up in manufacturing operations or rural construction projects.

Education and Training

Agricultural engineers must have a bachelor’s degree, preferably in agricultural engineering or biological engineering.

Education

Students who are interested in studying agricultural engineering will benefit from taking high school courses in math and science. University students take courses in advanced calculus, physics, biology, and chemistry. They also may take courses in business, public policy, and economics.

Entry-level jobs in agricultural engineering require a bachelor’s degree. Bachelor’s degree programs in agricultural engineering or biological engineering typically include significant hands-on components in areas such as science, math, and engineering principles. Most colleges and universities encourage students to gain practical experience through projects such as participating in engineering competitions in which teams of students design equipment and attempt to solve real problems.

ABET accredits programs in agricultural engineering.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensure is not required for entry-level positions as an agricultural engineer. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

The initial FE exam can be taken after one earns a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE).

Each state issues its own licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. Several states require engineers to take continuing education to keep their licenses. For licensing requirements, check with your state’s licensing board.

Advancement

New engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. As they gain knowledge and experience, beginning engineers move to more difficult projects and increase their independence in developing designs, solving problems, and making decisions.

With experience, agricultural engineers may advance to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some advance to become engineering managers. Agricultural engineers who become sales engineers use their engineering background to discuss a product’s technical aspects with potential buyers and to help in product planning, installation, and use.

Engineers who have a master’s degree or a Ph.D. are more likely to be involved in research and development activities, and may become postsecondary teachers.

Personality and Interests

Agricultural engineers typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Persuading interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Persuading interest which might fit with a career as an agricultural engineer, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Agricultural engineers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Because agricultural engineers sometimes design systems that are part of a larger agricultural or environmental system, they must be able to propose solutions that interact well with other workers, machinery and equipment, and the environment.

Listening skills. Agricultural engineers must listen to and seek out information from clients, workers, and other professionals working on a project. Furthermore, they must be able to address the concerns of those who will be using the systems and solutions they design.

Math skills. Agricultural engineers use the principals of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving skills. Agricultural engineers work on problems affecting many different aspects of agricultural production, from designing safer equipment for food processing to water erosion. To solve these problems, agricultural engineers must be able to apply general principles of engineering to new circumstances.

Pay

The median annual wage for agricultural engineers was $80,720 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $47,330, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $160,950.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for agricultural engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $88,050
Engineering services 85,040
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services
77,190
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state 59,550

Agricultural engineers typically work full time. Schedules may vary because of weather conditions or other complications. When working on outdoor projects, agricultural engineers may work more hours to take advantage of good weather or fewer hours in case of bad weather.

In addition, agricultural engineers may need to be available outside of normal work hours to address unexpected problems that come up in manufacturing operations or rural construction projects.

Job Outlook

Employment of agricultural engineers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The need to increase the efficiency of agricultural production systems and to reduce environmental damage should maintain demand for these workers.

Agricultural engineers have been expanding the range of projects they work on. Some of these new project areas that will drive demand for this occupation are alternative energies and biofuels; precision and automated farming technologies for irrigation, spraying, and harvesting; and, even more cutting edge, how to grow food in space to support future exploration.

New, more efficient designs for traditional agricultural engineering projects such as irrigation, storage, and worker safety systems will also maintain demand for these workers. Growing populations and stronger global competition will continue to pressure farmers to find more efficient means of production, and toward this end, they will need agricultural engineers.

Job Prospects

Typically, graduates of engineering programs have good job prospects and can often enter related engineering fields in addition to the field in which they have earned their degree. Agricultural engineering offers good opportunities, but it is a small occupation, and engineers trained in other fields, such as civil or mechanical engineering, also may compete for these jobs. Graduates of biological and agricultural engineering programs may have some advantage when applying for agricultural engineering jobs, but some may also find good prospects outside of the agricultural sector.

For More Information

For more information about agricultural engineers, visit

American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers

For information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

American Society for Engineering Education

Technology Student Association

For more information about licensure for agricultural engineers, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Engineers

National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies

For information about accredited engineering programs, visit

ABET

For a variety of information concerning agriculture, grants, and government initiatives, visit

Future Farmers of America

National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

 

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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