Agricultural engineers work for many different types of companies. They may be employed at industrial farms or even at research labs funded by the government. A work day for an agricultural engineer may consist of studying the DNA of a plant species, or it could be spent implementing a system of drainage for a crop field. They may design agricultural equipment, machinery, sensors, structures, and processes, such as the methods used in crop storage.
Job requirements and location determine the salary of an agricultural engineer. Generally, big corporate livestock feed operations and farms will start their agricultural engineers out at a salary of $35,000 to $40,000 per year, plus 401(k) and health insurance. These types of positions are often full-time and include opportunities for promotion. After having worked 4-10 years, an agricultural engineer may be advanced to a management position. Managers will typically make between $70,000 and $120,000 per year, plus a possible bonus dependent upon the profits of the company.*
Self-employed consultants may be hired for short-term contract work at smaller farms. Pay for this type of work is often between $700 and $5,000 per week, but this is not steady work, and the consultant must pay his or her own expenses. However, the flexibility of the schedule and having one’s choice of employers are definite benefits.*
Federal, state, and local governments often hire agricultural engineers. Salaries for government-funded positions start at $35,000 to $40,000. However, opportunities for promotions and raises do not arise as often as they do in private sector jobs. Yet, those employed by the government have better benefits and more job security. A pension plan and health insurance are typically fully funded.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
Agricultural engineers must obtain a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Agricultural, Civil, Biological, Chemical, or Environmental Engineering. In order to get a management position, an agricultural engineer will need a Ph.D. or Master’s degree in one of these areas, but a higher degree is not required for jobs in the field. Experience working with crops and livestock on farms helps when job searching, but years of experience and degree thereof differs between employers. Usually, several months as an intern or time in the field as a helper will be sufficient experience.
Without a bachelor’s degree, job seekers may have to spend many years working on a farm before being eligible for an engineering job. However, they will probably be told to finish their education within a certain time period in order to keep their job.
Job Description and Outlook
Job duties may include introducing and adapting seeds to different soil and climate conditions, analyzing and suggesting pesticides or fertilizers, testing soil and water, and designing or inventing irrigation and rainwater run-off systems. Agricultural engineers must work closely with environmental engineers, biologists, government officials, farmers, veterinarians, clients, and corporate partners.
Agricultural engineers are often charged with the task of insuring the sustainability of the crops and livestock on a farm. In order to do this, they must monitor all of the systems in operation on the farm so that they can make sure these are operating as they should. They must also plan for disasters, both manmade and natural. As farming techniques, crops, and federal regulations evolve, an agricultural engineer must keep up with learning, teaching others, and using the new procedures while making sure that the farm stays both operational and profitable.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment growth for agricultural engineers is expected to be 9% over the next decade, which is the average growth rate for all occupations. Engineers will be needed because of the growing demand for use of biosensors in determining the best treatment of crops. Employment may also grow because of the need to increase crop yields for the growing population and to grow crops that will be used as renewable energy sources. Engineers will also be needed to make agricultural production more efficient and to conserve resources.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Agricultural engineer certification requirements vary by job type. Those working on run-off, irrigation, and drainage systems usually must have a license to practice civil engineering in whatever state in which they are working. To get such a license, the engineer must work for four years and pass two written exams taken at the start and end of his or her term of work. Other than this requirement, certification varies by state. Some states require certification before working with genetically engineered materials or livestock and a registration before working with large amounts of industrial fertilizers and pesticides.
No specific professional associations exist for agricultural engineers, but there are professional organizations available for agricultural workers. The two largest organizations are Farmers of America and the National Association of Agricultural Workers. Many associations for engineers exist also, including the Society of Civil Engineers and the Society of Environmental Engineers. There are also several groups which focus on encouraging and developing agricultural workers or engineers in certain minority groups. These professional associations offer a great method of networking with others in the industry. They are also a great source for post-graduation job seekers.
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