Agricultural Engineering

Agricultural engineering combines engineering practices with agricultural production. It involves many disciplines, such as plant and animal biology, and chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. Agricultural engineers design agricultural structures and machinery. They manage the production of crops, such as seeding, tilling and irrigating. They oversee animal production, such as the care and feeding of dairy, poultry and fish. They also produce food and other agricultural products and use bioresource engineering to find ways to use machines to help the environment. Agricultural engineering can be very diverse, and includes many processes such as producing, processing and distributing agricultural products.

Agricultural engineering has many challenges. There are always processes that need to be improved, such as food shortages, irrigation and storage. Agricultural engineers have to constantly be aware of these challenges and seek possible solutions. They may solve these problems by creating new systems, structures or new totally new processes altogether. They also have to determine how these changes may impact other people or processes. Agricultural engineers may work with groups of other engineers to analyze processes and brainstorm solutions.

Because agricultural engineering involves so many aspects, some engineers may have a specific focus. Some may focus on machinery and some may focus on crops or livestock, while others may focus on storage solutions. Job duties and primary location may vary depending on the agricultural engineer's specialty. Although most work indoors, some visit farms and manufacturers and travel frequently. Agricultural engineering requires a lot of interaction, whether it is with co-workers, farmers or manufacturers. Therefore, excellent communication skills are necessary. Because agricultural engineers are called upon to improve processes, they also need to be analytical and detail-oriented.

Agricultural engineering is used in many industries, such as academics, government, private engineering firms, manufacturing, technology, production, applied science, management, sales and research. Despite the number of industries that employ agricultural engineers, there are only about 3,000 in the United States. Nearly 60 percent of them work for the government, such as the Department of Agriculture. About 30 percent of them work as consultants to farmers. Others work in manufacturing.

There are dozens of schools through the United States that offer degree programs in agricultural engineering. Some schools may refer to agricultural engineering as biosystems engineering, biological engineering or bioresource engineering. As with all engineering fields, a strong background in math and science is required. It may take up to five years to study for and complete a degree. You can expect to take courses in engineering, social sciences, information technology, math and humanities in the first two years of an agricultural engineering degree. The final two years are spent taking classes in soil science, avian biology, systems engineering, plant physiology and many others. You may be required to take basic design courses and study machinery design. You will also learn about production and manufacturing in terms of agriculture. In addition, you will learn about taking care of plants and animals and the special processes and procedures used in agriculture. The curriculum is diverse, since agriculture involves many aspects.

For those just starting out in the agricultural engineering field, salaries start at a little more than $54,000 annually. The actual amount varies by industry, areas of expertise, location, education and experience level. Those who work as agricultural engineers for the government earn around $81,000. The overall average is nearly $69,000.

Agricultural engineering is expected to grow up to 12 percent by 2018. This is because crop production will need to increase to feed a growing population. Agricultural engineers will be needed to find efficient ways to conserve resources. Also, there will be a demand for crops as energy sources, as well as biosensors, which help treat crops.

Last Updated: 06/08/2014

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