Agricultural engineers are responsible for creating products from plants and animals, managing resources, and helping protect the environment. Also known as biological engineers, they use scientific principles to find cost-effective solutions to problems relating to everything from the food you eat to biofuels to forest products. The job of an agricultural engineer requires an aptitude for mathematics and science as well as good communication and business skills.
The duties of agricultural and biological engineers vary depending on the specific job. Some design and test agricultural equipment or supervise food manufacturing operations. Others develop better and more nutritious foods for humans and animals. Other products that come from agricultural engineering include new drugs, biofuels and environmentally sustainable manufacturing methods. An agricultural engineer may work at improving animal housing and health care. He also works to improve water use, manage waste processing and disposal and to reduce pollution
Food production companies employ agricultural and biological engineers, as do pharmaceutical, forest products and other industries that market products based on plants and animals. You’ll find biological engineers working for alternative energy firms to develop biofuels. Federal and state regulatory, research and educational agencies employ agricultural and biological engineers. Some work for consulting organizations dealing with environmental protection, pollution control and resource management. Still others work for manufacturing firms producing farm equipment, greenhouses and animal housing.
To be an agricultural or biological engineer, you need to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree in a program approved by ABET, formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. The course of study includes lab and field work as well as classes. Typically, programs offer internship or cooperative employment programs, so students can gain practical experience. Students take courses in biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics; engineering analysis and design; and topics such as fluid mechanics and environmental engineering. After graduating, prospective agricultural and biological engineers must pass a Fundamentals of Engineering exam and work for about four years under the supervision of licensed engineers before qualifying to take the Professional Engineer exam to get their own licenses.
As of 2012, the median salary for agricultural and biological engineers was $74,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The best-paid 10 percent earned over $115,680 and the lowest-paid 10 percent made less than $44,750. The BLS projects job growth in agricultural and biological engineering to be about 9 percent from 2010 to 2020. Growth is expected to be strong in jobs related to biofuels, high-technology agricultural equipment, and water management, and with firms exporting agricultural equipment to other countries.