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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.
Agricultural engineers typically do the following:
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 programing 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.
Agricultural engineers hold about 2,900 jobs. The industries that employ the most agricultural engineers are as follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||13%|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state||10|
|State and local government, excluding education and hospitals||10|
Agricultural engineers work in a variety of industries. Some work for the federal government, and others provide engineering contracting or consultation services or work for agricultural machinery manufacturers.
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.
Agricultural engineers typically work full time. Sometimes they work overtime because of weather conditions, financial pressures, or unexpected complications. Although engineers usually work in offices, weather can affect their work schedules and some outdoor projects need favorable weather. Agricultural engineers may work long hours to take advantage of good weather.
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Agricultural engineers must have a bachelor’s degree, preferably in agricultural engineering or biological engineering.
Students who are interested in studying agricultural engineering will benefit from taking high school courses in mathematics and sciences. 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, mathematics, 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.
Analytical skills. Agricultural engineers may design systems that are part of a larger agricultural or environmental system. They must be able to analyze the needs of complex systems that involve workers, 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 be able to 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 be able to creatively apply the principles of engineering.
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
The initial FE exam can be taken after earning a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam commonly are 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.
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 continuing education for engineers to keep their licenses.
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 go into sales use their engineering background to discuss a product’s technical aspects with potential buyers and to help in product planning, installation, and use. For more information, see the profiles on architectural and engineering managers and sales engineers.
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.
The median annual wage for agricultural engineers is $71,730. 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 $45,940, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $112,700.
The median annual wages for agricultural engineers in the top industries in which they worked are follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||$81,080|
|State and local government, excluding education and hospitals||59,930|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state||51,930|
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.
Employment of agricultural engineers is projected to grow 4 percent through 2024, slower than 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.
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 find good prospects outside of the agricultural sector.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2014||Projected Employment, 2024||Change, 2014-24|