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What Agricultural Engineers Do About this section

Agricultural engineers
Agricultural engineers often have to observe the results of their work where the crops are actually grown.

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.

Work Environment About this section

Agricultural engineers
Agricultural engineers may test the effects that specific growing conditions have on plants, in a laboratory setting.

Agricultural engineers held about 1,700 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of agricultural engineers were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 20%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state 12
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 9
Engineering services 6

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.

Injuries and Illnesses

Agricultural engineers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.

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.

How to Become an Agricultural Engineer About this section

Agricultural engineers
Bachelor’s degree programs in biological and agricultural engineering typically include significant hands-on components in areas such as science.

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.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Agricultural engineers must analyze the needs of complex systems that involve workers, crops, animals, machinery and equipment, and the environment.

Communication skills. Agricultural engineers must understand the needs of clients, workers, and others working on a project. Furthermore, they must communicate their thoughts about systems and about solutions to any problems they have been working on.

Math skills. Agricultural engineers use calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced mathematical disciplines for analysis, design, and troubleshooting.

Problem-solving skills. Agricultural engineers’ main role is to solve problems found in agricultural production. Goals may include designing safer equipment for food processing or reducing erosion. To solve these problems, agricultural engineers must creatively apply the principles of 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.

Pay About this section

Agricultural Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2019

Engineers

$94,500

Agricultural engineers

$80,720

Total, all occupations

$39,810

 

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 About this section

Agricultural Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Engineers

4%

Total, all occupations

4%

Agricultural engineers

2%

 

Employment of agricultural engineers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average for all occupations.

Farming establishments will continue to require more machinery, equipment, and buildings to increase the efficiency of agricultural production systems and to reduce environmental damage, which should maintain demand for these workers.

Agricultural engineers are expected to continue working on projects such as alternative energies and biofuels; precision and automated farming technologies for irrigation, spraying, and harvesting; and growing food in space to support future exploration.

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 result in the industry needing more efficient means of production, which will increase demand for 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.

Employment projections data for agricultural engineers, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Agricultural engineers

17-2021 1,700 1,700 2 0 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

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

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Agricultural Engineers

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