Agricultural Engineers

Summary

agricultural engineers image
Agricultural engineers sometimes travel to farms to oversee the installation of new systems.
Quick Facts: Agricultural Engineers
2014 Median Pay $71,730 per year
$34.48 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 2,900
Job Outlook, 2014-24 4% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 100

What Agricultural Engineers Do

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.

Work Environment

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. Although they work mostly in offices, they also may spend time traveling to agricultural settings.

How to Become an Agricultural Engineer

Agricultural engineers must have a bachelor’s degree, preferably in agricultural engineering or biological engineering.

Pay

The median annual wage for agricultural engineers was $71,730 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of agricultural engineers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2014 to 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.  

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for agricultural engineers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of agricultural engineers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about agricultural engineers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Agricultural Engineers Do

Agricultural engineers
Agricultural engineers often have to observe the results of their work where the crops are actually grown.

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.

Duties

Agricultural engineers typically do the following:

  • Use computer software to design equipment, systems, or structures
  • Modify environmental factors that affect animal or crop production, such as airflow in a barn or runoff patterns on a field
  • Test equipment to ensure its safety and reliability
  • Oversee construction and production operations
  • Plan and work together with clients, contractors, consultants, and other engineers to ensure effective and desirable outcomes

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.

Work Environment

Agricultural engineers
Agricultural engineers may test the effects that specific growing conditions have on plants, in a laboratory setting.

Agricultural engineers held about 2,900 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most agricultural engineers were as follows:

Engineering services 14%
Federal government, excluding postal service 13
Food manufacturing 10
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.

Work Schedules

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.

How to Become an Agricultural Engineer

Agricultural engineers
Bachelor’s degree programs in biological and agricultural engineering typically include significant hands-on components in areas such as science.

Agricultural engineers must have a bachelor’s degree, preferably in agricultural engineering or biological engineering.

Education

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.

Important Qualities

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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

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.

Advancement

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.

Pay

Agricultural Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2014

Engineers

$88,720

Agricultural engineers

$71,730

Total, all occupations

$35,540

 

The median annual wage for agricultural engineers was $71,730 in May 2014. 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.

In May 2014, the median annual wages for agricultural engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $81,080
Engineering services 76,440
Food manufacturing 73,180
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.

Job Outlook

Agricultural Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Agricultural engineers

4%

Engineers

4%

 

Employment of agricultural engineers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2014 to 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.

Job Prospects

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.

Employment projections data for agricultural engineers, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Agricultural engineers

17-2021 2,900 3,000 4 100 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of agricultural engineers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2014 MEDIAN PAY
Agricultural and food science technicians

Agricultural and Food Science Technicians

Agricultural and food science technicians assist agricultural and food scientists by performing duties such as measuring and analyzing the quality of food and agricultural products.

Associate's degree $35,140
Agricultural and food scientists

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Agricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products.

Bachelor's degree $60,690
Biomedical engineers

Biomedical Engineers

Biomedical engineers combine engineering principles with medical and biological sciences to design and create equipment, devices, computer systems, and software used in healthcare.

Bachelor's degree $86,950
Civil engineers

Civil Engineers

Civil engineers design, build, supervise, operate, and maintain construction projects and systems in the public and private sector, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.

Bachelor's degree $82,050
Conservation scientists and foresters

Conservation Scientists and Foresters

Conservation scientists and foresters manage the overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.

Bachelor's degree $60,360
Environmental engineers

Environmental Engineers

Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. They are involved in efforts to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control.

Bachelor's degree $83,360
Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers

Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers operate establishments that produce crops, livestock, and dairy products.

High school diploma or equivalent $68,050
Hydrologists

Hydrologists

Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth’s crust. They use their expertise to solve problems in the areas of water quality or availability.

Bachelor's degree $78,370
Industrial engineers

Industrial Engineers

Industrial engineers find ways to eliminate wastefulness in production processes. They devise efficient systems that integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service.

Bachelor's degree $81,490
Mechanical engineers

Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal sensors and devices, including tools, engines, and machines.

Bachelor's degree $83,060

Contacts for More Information

For more information about agricultural engineers, visit

American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers

For information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

American Society for Engineering Education

Technology Student Association

For more information about licensure for agricultural engineers, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Engineers

For information about accredited engineering programs, visit

ABET

For a variety of information concerning agriculture, grants, and government initiatives, visit

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture

O*NET

Agricultural Engineers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Agricultural Engineers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/agricultural-engineers.htm (visited February 08, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015