Agricultural Engineer

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Agricultural Engineer


Agricultural engineers create the machines and equipment that have changed the face of agricultural technology forever. In our ever-demanding and over-consuming society, it is important that engineers design new methods of agricultural production. Once upon a time, farmers had to do everything by hand and lacked machinery or technology to help them produce large yields. In some parts of the world, these traditional methods are still employed, however in our modernized, fast paced environment, it is important that there are systems designed to increase, improve and standardize agricultural processes. Agricultural engineers apply their knowledge of engineering technology and science to agricultural processes. They advise people on engineering problems related to agriculture and design machinery, structures, equipment and systems. Some also develop water and soil conservation processes and research various areas of agriculture and environment.

Most agricultural engineers work toward creating safer farming techniques in order to prevent emergencies and thousands of unnecessary deaths each year, for example thousands of deaths in underdeveloped countries due to pesticide and fertilizer use. When designing agricultural systems, such as a water irrigation system, engineers must take into account all natural resources and other environmental and political factors which will effect the land and operations of a new structure. Agricultural engineers will specialize in specific areas once established, including power and machinery, control systems, soil and water conservation, pest solutions, environmental hazards, food and aquaculture. A new controversial area some may work in is biotechnology and genetic engineering where engineers use living organisms and parts of organisms to produce new products and modify and improve existing ones.

Agricultural engineers work with farmers, other engineers, scientists and financial clients to make sure that design plans are safe and will withstand a number of conditional variables. Safety is always one of the most important issues that agricultural engineers must contend with, especially when it comes to soil contamination and dangerous pesticides. They create engineering plans on computers which test and predict possible errors and problems with a mechanism and in this, they generate workable solutions. Although most work takes place on the computer, many mechanical engineers travel to factories or plants to see their work in progress.

Agricultural engineers use traditional and high-tech tools, such as computer-aided design (CAD) systems to create realistic geometric models of objects which can simulate and analyze the effects and potential problems of designs such as machine malfunction and breakdown. CAD models are eliminating the need for hand drawn models. Agricultural engineers research and evaluate each project to find the most cost-effective solutions to problems while still maintaining recognized standards. They are required to constantly update their skills and knowledge in order to keep up with technological advancements in this quickly changing field.
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  Interests and Skills  
Agricultural engineers are analytical, creative and innovative thinkers with excellent problem solving skills. They have a natural affinity and aptitude for mathematics and science and can often visualize complex processes and design on computers. They possess excellent communication skills, both written and oral, and have the ability to work well in teams with people from various disciplines and backgrounds. They often work with farmers and get to spend time outdoors therefore they should love the environment and agriculture.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Develop plans for the design and layout of agricultural structures and utilities such as farm buildings, farm electrical systems or feed processing plants
  • Develop plans for drainage, waste management, land improvements and irrigation
  • Use computer-aided design (CAD) technology to design equipment and machine parts
  • Design and supervise environmental and land reclamation projects in agriculture and other related industries
  • Carry out environmental studies
  • Develop technologies and practices to improve the sustainability of crop and livestock production
  • Design food processing plants and related mechanical systems
  • Supervise food processing or manufacturing plant operations
  • Meet with clients, contractors and consultants such as district or regional councils, farmers and developers to discuss their needs
  • Advise clients on how best to use available resources, and possible improved methods and operations
  • Advise on water quality and treatment issues related to river control, groundwater and surface water resources
  • Advise on waste management systems where waste interacts with the land and surrounding freshwater
  • Visit clients' sites and observe environmental problems
  • Agricultural engineers work in offices on computers but sometimes travel to production or processing sites, farms, research laboratories or other locations to do field tests or study equipment and processes. The work can be very demanding and time consuming due to the seasonal and weather-dependent nature of the industries in which they work. The workweek can be anywhere from forty to fifty hours per week or longer hours when necessary.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Agricultural engineers often work in companies or organizations that produce, manufacture and distribute agricultural machinery, equipment and structures, such as power and light companies, food processing firms, biotechnology firms, energy industry companies and consulting firms to name a few. Some may work in universities or colleges.
  • Those working in the government may work in community education, applied research or as consultants on the development of agricultural projects relating to the construction of specially designed buildings, machinery, irrigation and drainage, waste handling and energy conservation systems.

  Long Term Career Potential  
As agricultural engineers gain experience, they can advance to positions of greater responsibility within agricultural industry, in a government department and at universities or research institutes. Those with PhDs can teach at the university level. Advancement may also come through more difficult assignments or more responsibility, doing independent agricultural research, or developing new agricultural products. There is also a possibility for more administrative or management work within a company or organization. This type of managerial advancement will often require post-graduate studies.

  Educational Paths  
While still in high school, if this is the career path you are interested in taking, make sure you take courses in mathematics and science. Most university and college programs will require these subject areas as prerequisites.

Agricultural engineers require a bachelor's degree in agricultural or bioresource engineering or in a related engineering field. Those with degrees in civil or mechanical engineering may also work in certain agricultural engineering positions. Then, they must also become registered as a Professional Engineer (PEng) within an association of professional engineers to secure employment and practice in their field. In order to become a licensed Professional Engineer, one must gain four years supervised work experience and complete an examination. Some engineers also get master's degrees in a specific area, such as waste disposal engineering.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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