Agricultural engineers use their knowledge of biology and engineering technology to solve agricultural problems. They often work alongside biological scientists and agricultural and food scientists, designing agricultural machinery, equipment, and structures. They may specialize in a variety of areas, including power systems and machinery design; structures and environment; and food and bioprocess engineering. They work to develop ways to improve the processing of agricultural products, as well as methods to conserve soil and water. They may work in a number of different sections of an organization, such as research and development, production, sales, or management.
Agricultural engineers need to be able to work effectively as part of a team. They should have the ability to communicate in writing and orally. These communication skills are vital in the field of agricultural engineering because agricultural engineers interact so often with many non-engineering specialists in a wide variety of fields. Agricultural engineers should be analytical, creative, detail-oriented, and inquisitive.
In 2002, agricultural engineers earned a median annual salary of $50,700. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $35,590, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $87,220. According to a 2003 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor's degree candidates in agricultural engineering received starting offers averaging $42,987, master's degree candidates averaged $54,000.
Training and Education
A bachelor's degree is required for all entry-level agricultural engineering positions. Most programs include study in the agricultural specialty, as well as courses in mathematics and science. Many programs include a design course, along with a computer or laboratory class. Many colleges offer students the option of earning a 2- or 4-year degree in engineering technology, which include hands-on laboratory courses that prepare students for practical design and production work, as opposed to more theory-based jobs. While graduates of these programs may obtain the same kinds of jobs as graduates with a bachelor's degree in engineering, they are not qualified to register as professional engineers.
Faculty positions and many research and development programs in agricultural engineering require graduate training. Some engineers earn degrees in business administration to enhance their education and give themselves more career options. In fact, many high-level executives in government and business started their careers as engineers. Engineers in the United States are required to be licensed if they offer their services directly to the public. When engineers become licensed, they are designated Professional Engineers (PE). PE requirements include a degree from an engineering program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), 4 years of relevant work experience, and successful completion of a State examination. Entry-level engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers, and may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a staff of engineers and technicians.
In 2002, agricultural engineers held about 2,900 jobs. One third worked for professional, scientific, and technical services, supplying consultant services to farmers and farm-related industries. Others were employed in various industries, such as crops and livestock, manufacturing, and government.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of agricultural engineers is expected to increase about as fast as the average. The increase in employment will result from the worldwide standardization of agricultural equipment, the increasing demand fro agricultural products, the demand for more efficient agricultural production, and the growing public importance of resource conservation. Job openings will also result from engineers who retire, change occupations, or leave the work force for other reasons.
For more information on how to pursue this profession, please see our Computer Training and Technology Education directory.