What Is an Agricultural Engineer?

Job Description

Farm Irrigation
••• George Clerk / Vetta / Getty Images

Agricultural engineers, according to the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), apply engineering principles to any process associated with producing agriculturally based goods and management of our natural resources (Finding Solutions for Life on a Small Planet). They design agricultural machinery, equipment, sensors, processes and structures, and solve problems related to farming.

Quick Facts

  • Agricultural engineers earn a median annual salary of $75,090.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are just 2,700 people employed as agricultural engineers.
  • The job outlook for agricultural engineers is poor, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This government agency expects employment to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2024.
  • Engineering firms, the Federal government and state governments, and food manufacturers are the primary employers in this field.
  • Jobs are typically full time—usually 40 hours per week—with some additional hours required. Engineers are considered exempt employees under the U.S. Federal Labor Standards Act and are therefore not eligible for overtime pay.
  • Because their work often involves being outdoors, the weather can affect their schedules. They work longer hours when the weather is good because they won't have that opportunity when the weather turns inclement.

    A Day In the Life of an Agricultural Engineer 

    Here are some typical things you can expect to do if you decide to go into this occupation:

    • Design agricultural machinery components and equipment using computer-aided design (CAD) technology
    • Create engineering documents as needed to satisfy project scope
    • Maintain and repair automation equipment to ensure automation success
    • Interact directly with growers, consultants, and agribusiness companies
    • Provide engineering design and support for civil/agricultural related projects

    How to Become an Agricultural Engineer

    First, you will have to earn at least a bachelor's degree in engineering with a concentration in agricultural engineering. An aptitude for math is critical. Your degree should come from a program accredited by ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. ABET is a non-governmental organization that accredits post-secondary education programs in applied and natural science and international organization. It accredits engineering programs in 24 countries including the United States. It usually takes four years to complete a bachelor's degree which combines classroom, laboratory, and field studies. You can use ABET's Accredited Program Search to find colleges of your choice. 

    Engineers who offer their services directly to the public must be licensed. These licensed engineers are called Professional Engineers (PE). Candidates for licensure must have a degree from an ABET-accredited program and about four years of relevant work experience. They must also pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and the Professional Engineering (PE) exam, both administered by NCEES (the National Council of Examines for Engineering and Surveying).

    Other requirements vary by state. The Licensed Occupations Tool from CareerOneStop will help you learn about the licensing requirements in the state in which you plan to work.

    Soft Skills You'll Need

    In addition to the technical skills you must acquire, you will also need certain soft skills to succeed as an agricultural engineer. These soft skills include the following:

    • Problem Solving:  A significant part of your job will be identifying problems and coming up with workable solutions to them.
    • Critical Thinking: To solve problems and make decisions you'll need to be able to evaluate your options and choose the most viable ones.
    • Communication Skills: You will have to share information with clients and colleagues. Excellent writing, listening, and speaking skills are crucial.

    Is This a Good Career Fit for You?

    The following career and personality assessment tools can help you self-evaluate the best career path for you.

    • Holland Code: IRE (Investigative, Realistic, Enterprising)
    • MBTI Personality Types: ENTJ, INTJ, ESTJ, ISTJ, ESTP (Tieger, Paul D., Barron, Barbara, and Tieger, Kelly. (2014)  Do What You Are. NY: Hatchette Book Group.)

    You can also take the career-specific Should You Become an Engineer Quiz to see if this career is right for you.

    Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

     DescriptionAnnual Salary Educational Requirements
    Environmental EngineerUses engineering principles as well as knowledge of soil science, chemistry, and biology to solve environmental problems.$84,560Bachelors degree in environmental engineering
    Engineering TechnicianAssists engineers and scientists.$61,260Associate degree in engineering technology

    Architect

    Designs buildings and other structures.$76,100Professional degree in Architecture (Bachelors or Masters degrees)

     

    Sources:
    Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook
    Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online.