What Is Agricultural Engineering?

Some people might only think of fruits and vegetables when they think of agricultural engineering, but in this field, you may help with the production of cotton shirts or the design of packaging to keep potato chips fresh. If this career interests you, continue reading to learn more about what job duties to expect and how to prepare to enter the field. Schools offering Engineering & Technology Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Agricultural Engineering Overview

If you become an agricultural engineer, your work will often revolve around two issues: a growing world population and the reduction of farmland. You may have to figure out how to keep land fertile when over-planting drains it of essential minerals, find a way to water crops without depleting water sources or create methods of growing more crops in smaller areas of land.

The first thing you'll do as an agricultural engineer is to examine the problem. For example, you may examine a crop that grew well but is now failing even though the farmer hasn't changed anything. You'll look at contributing factors like erosion, seed quality and mineral depletion. You'll analyze the irrigation system to see if it needs to be altered or if the water has become contaminated. Your job as an agricultural engineer will be to discover what factors cause this problem and ways to solve it. To do this, you'll have to understand hydration, biology, agriculture and a host of engineering systems.

Once you understand what the problems are, you can begin to apply research and design skills. You might look at other cases that had the same problems and examine the solutions used in those instances. You may find that this area has unique challenges and a new type of equipment must be designed to address them. As an agricultural engineer, you may even be called upon to design a new type of packaging that preserves the crops longer after harvesting or prolongs the usability lifespan of a product after it's been processed.

Important Facts About Agricultural Engineers

Work EnvironmentLaboratory; on-site field work
Continuing EducationRequired by some states to maintain licensure
Key SkillsAnalysis, math, problem-solving
Similar OccupationsEnvironmental engineer, agricultural and food scientist, industrial engineer
Median Salary (2018)$77,110 (agricultural engineers)*
Job Outlook (2016-2026)8% (agricultural engineers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Degree Programs

Most engineers find entry-level employment with only a bachelor's degree in a field like agricultural or biological engineering. Programs include classroom-based study as well as practical training in the field and in the lab. Many universities offering these programs include some kind of work training, like a co-op or internship, in the curriculum to prepare you for the workforce. If you want to go into a more research-oriented or advanced-level career, you may need to consider a graduate degree.

Career Information

After graduating from a bachelor's degree program, you can seek entry-level employment. If you will be working for a public organization, you will need to earn a professional engineer license, which involves graduating from an accredited program, accumulating four or more years of professional experience and passing multiple exams. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an average growth rate of 8% is expected in the agricultural engineering field from 2016-2026, and new jobs should be available in designing innovative machinery that makes agriculture more efficient. In May 2018, the BLS reported that the median salary for this field was $77,110 annually.

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