How to Become an Agricultural Engineer

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As our population continues to grow and our demand for renewable energy sources continues to increase, agricultural engineers will become increasingly crucial to our ability to efficiently and cost-effectively produce food and fuel.

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What does an agricultural engineer do?

Agricultural engineers improve agricultural processes, soil and water conservation and food processing and distribution systems by combining the principles of math, science and technology. Agricultural engineers also design, develop and assess solutions to environmental issues, machinery used in food and renewable energy production, storage facilities for food products and systems for drainage and flood control.

Some agricultural engineers choose to specialize in particular areas of agricultural engineering, such as grain milling, soil or water conservation, animal processing, diary product manufacturing, manufacturing machines for agriculture or fruit and vegetable production and processing.

What kind of training does an agricultural engineer need?

Most entry-level agricultural engineer careers require at least a bachelor degree in agricultural engineering, or a related engineering field. Because some agricultural engineers work primarily with electrical systems or machinery, degrees in other disciplines within engineering, such as electrical engineering or mechanical engineering, are often accepted for entry-level positions.

Undergraduate programs for any field within engineering emphasize math, science and the basic principles of engineering in order to prepare students to confront challenges and improve efficiency in any engineering discipline. Because agricultural engineers will be working specifically with designing solutions for the food manufacturing, processing and distribution industry, agricultural engineering curriculum generally includes a wide range of topics, such as soil science, field machinery design, hydraulics, animal husbandry, and other courses related to plants, animals and machines.

Agricultural engineers providing services to the public must be licensed in the state in which they work. The licensing process entails four basic steps, which include completing a degree program approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), passing the Fundamentals of Engineering exam and the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, and completing four years of work experience in an engineering discipline.

What are the prospects for a career as an agricultural engineer?

In 2006, there were about 3,100 agricultural engineers in the United States. Of these, most work in the food manufacturing industry. Employment opportunities for agricultural engineers are expected to increase by approximately 9% by the year 2016, which is slightly lower than the anticipated average growth rate for all industries across the country. Agricultural engineer job opportunities will increase due to the increasing need for productive, efficient crop growing methods to accommodate our growing population, as well as the needs of the renewable energy industry. (1)

How much do agricultural engineers make?

Entry-level agricultural engineer salaries vary widely depending on a number of factors, including geographical region, specialization, education and experience, size of the employer and additional certifications earned. The average entry-level base salary for agricultural engineers is $49,754. The median income for all agricultural engineers working in the field is $66,030. (1)

An agricultural engineering career is a good choice for someone who enjoys hands-on working conditions and the chance to work both indoors and outdoors. Students who like to get their hands dirty and are drawn towards improving the ways that we meet our basic needs will enjoy agricultural engineering.

Joshua T Osborne

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