What Is an Agricultural Engineer?

Definition & Examples of an Agricultural Engineer

A man and woman are kneeling in a field. The man is collecting field specimens and the woman is looking at a tablet.
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Agricultural engineers solve farming problems, including issues with machinery, storing and processing agricultural goods, and environmental issues.

Learn more about becoming an agricultural engineer.

What Is an Agricultural Engineer?

Agricultural engineers improve processes associated with producing agriculturally-based goods and managing natural resources. They design agricultural machinery, equipment, sensors, processes, and structures and work on projects ranging from developing climate control systems for livestock to integrating artificial intelligence into agriculture.

How Agricultural Engineers Work

Agricultural engineers work in a variety of settings. While they might spend some time in offices, they spend a significant amount of time at worksites. Many work outdoors, so 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.

Engineering firms, the federal government, state governments, and food manufacturers are the primary employers in this field. Agricultural engineering jobs are typically full time with some additional hours required. Engineers are considered exempt employees under the U.S. Federal Labor Standards Act and are not eligible for overtime pay.

In a typical day, agricultural engineers might:

  • 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
  • Interact directly with growers, consultants, and agribusiness companies
  • Provide engineering design and support for civil/agricultural-related projects

Agricultural engineers earn a median annual salary of $80,720, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are 2,600 people employed as agricultural engineers. The field is expected to grow as fast as average through 2028.

How to Become an Agricultural Engineer

You'll have to earn a minimum of a bachelor's degree in engineering with a concentration in agricultural engineering. Bachelor's degree programs typically combine classroom, laboratory, and field studies. Your degree should come from a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET accredits engineering programs in 32 countries including the United States. You can confirm whether programs are accredited using ABET's Accredited Program Search

Entry-level engineers aren't required to be licensed, as they're typically working under supervision. As you advance, you may want to supervise other engineers or offer your services directly to the public. To do that, you need to be licensed as a Professional Engineer (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 the National Council of Examines for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). Other requirements vary by state, and the license finder tool from CareerOneStop will help you learn about the licensing requirements in the state in which you plan to work.

Most states accept engineering licenses from other states as long as the requirements meet or exceed their own.

In addition to the technical skills, you'll also need certain soft skills to succeed as an agricultural engineer. These soft skills include:

  • Problem-solving: The focus of your job is identifying issues, understanding the root cause for them, and coming up with workable solutions.
  • Critical thinking: In many cases, there won't be an obvious solution. You'll need to be able to evaluate your options and choose the most viable ones.
  • Analytical skills: You'll be working with data about crops, weather conditions, farming equipment, and farm workers. Understanding data and drawing conclusions from that data is essential to solving agricultural problems.
  • Communication skills: Excellent writing, listening, and speaking skills are crucial for sharing information with clients and colleagues.

Key Takeaways

  • Agricultural engineers solve farming problems, including issues with machinery, storing and processing agricultural goods, and environmental issues.
  • They work on a range of issues, including designing improved machinery, equipment, sensors, processes, and structures. 
  • They work in a variety of settings, with a significant amount of time spent in the field. Jobs are typically full time and may be impacted by weather. 
  • Becoming an agricultural engineer involves getting a bachelor's degree in an accredited program and gaining work experience so you can obtain licensure.