Agricultural engineers work for a variety of companies ranging from industrial farms to government-funded research labs. A typical day can be spent researching the genetics of a particular species of plant to designing an improved drainage system for a field of crops.
Agricultural Engineer Job Responsibilities
Duties can include soil and water testing, inventing or designing rainwater and irrigation run-off plans, analyzing and recommending fertilizers or pesticides, and/or adapting seeds to various climate and soil conditions. People in this field will be expected to work very closely with biologists, environmental engineers, farmers, government officials, veterinarians, and corporate partners and clients.
As an agricultural engineer, you will most likely be responsible for insuring the sustainability of the livestock and crops on a farm. This is usually accomplished by monitoring all of the various systems on a farm in order to ensure that they are running as planned, as well as planning for natural and manmade disasters. As crops, farming techniques, and government regulations change, you will be responsible for learning about, educating others, and implementing these new procedures while keeping the farm operational and profitable.
Agricultural Engineer Training and Education Requirements
Agricultural Engineers will need to have at least a Bachelor’s of Science in Agricultural, Biological, Chemical, Civil, or Environmental Engineering. Obtaining a Master’s or Ph.D. in these areas will usually be required in order to be promoted into management, but it is not necessary to get as higher degree in order to find a job in the field. Employers like to see some experience with working around farms, crops, and livestock; but the length of time and degree of experience can vary between employers. Typically several months of internship or even time spent as a general field or barn hand will provide someone with enough familiarity with agriculture to be successful at their job.
Candidates without a four year degree can often spend several years working on a farm or feedlot before being considered for an engineering position. These candidates, however, will most likely be required to complete their education within a specified timeframe in order to keep their position.
Agricultural Engineer Salary and Wages
Salaries for agricultural engineers can vary a lot based on the location and job requirements. In general, large corporate-owned farms and livestock feed operations will start agricultural engineers at a base salary of $35,000 to $40,000 a year, plus benefits such as health insurance and 401(k). These are usually full-time positions with good opportunities for advancement. After 4-10 years of work, an agricultural engineer employed by one of these firms can be promoted to management. Engineering Managers will usually earn between $70,000 and $120,000 a year, plus a bonus dependent on company profits.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Smaller farms will usually hire self-employed consultants for short-term contract assignments. These positions can pay between $700 and $5000 a week, but the consultant is not guaranteed steady work, and must pay for his or her own expenses. The flexible schedule and ability to choose employers can also be a great benefit of this line of work. Agricultural engineers are also often hired by state, local, and federal governments. Salaries for these positions usually start around $35,000 to $40,000, but opportunities for pay raises and promotions are not as frequent as those who work in the private sector. Government employees do have better job security and benefits, however. Health insurance is usually fully funded, as is a pension plan.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Agricultural Engineer Certifications
The type of work that is performed usually determines the type of certification that an agricultural engineer must have. Those who work on drainage, run-off, and/or irrigation systems must typically obtain a license to practice civil engineering in the state in which they are working. These licenses require the engineer to work for four year and pass two written tests taken at the beginning and end of his or her work term. Beyond this general requirement, however, certification will vary by state. Some states will require a certification in order to work with livestock, work with genetically engineered materials, and/or a registration in order to work with large quantities of industrial pesticides and fertilizers. Requirements do vary by state, be sure to research the requirements for your area before starting down this career path.
Agricultural Engineer Professional Associations
There are no specific professional organizations for agricultural engineers, but there are a variety of professional organizations for agricultural workers. Farmers of America and the National Association of Agricultural Workers are the two largest. There are also a large number of associations for engineers include the Society of Civil Engineers and the Society of Environmental Engineers. Additionally, there are a number of groups focused on the encouragement of and development of engineers or agricultural workers in specific minority groups.
These professional associations can be great ways to network with other people in your industry, as well as an excellent source to start looking for a job after graduation.