As a biological and agricultural engineering major, you'll study math, biology, physical sciences and engineering and learn how to apply this knowledge to a variety of challenges.
You may find yourself working to improve how we create, transport and package food. Or, you might help develop a new biofuel, find an unlikely use for agricultural waste or promote the humane treatment of animals on farms.
You don't have to come from a rural community or have farming passion running through your veins for this field of study. What you need is a problem-solving mindset coupled with a willingness to work on-site and occasionally get your hands dirty.
Something to Consider
Depending on the school you attend, the biological and agricultural engineering department may offer several majors and minors with specific focuses. Some schools even offer separate degree programs in either agricultural or biological engineering, although you may start with the same core courses.
Depending on your school and program, you may also be able to apply for a cooperative education program and spend a summer, or longer, working in the field. These are often paid positions that could help you decide on your focus when you return to school and give you valuable experience that could make it easier to find a job after graduation.
Before applying to a school and beginning your program, check to make sure the school is accredited by ABET, which is the nonprofit organization that provides accreditation for a variety of engineering programs.
You can also learn more about biological and agricultural engineering from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.
Your career options can vary greatly once you earn your degree. In part, the options will depend on your focus and interest.
You could look for work somewhere within the food chain: on a farm, at a food-processing plant or for a company developing more sustainable packaging and transportation solutions. Another option is to work for companies that support the agricultural sector, perhaps by creating heavy machinery or designing new greenhouses.
Outside of the food industry, you might pursue a career with an environmental consulting firm (assessing the environmental impact of a company's current practices and recommending improvements), at a renewable energy firm (helping develop biofuels) or with a company that uses an agricultural product (such as a paper company that needs to manage its supply of wood).
Where You Could End Up Living
As of May 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) had statistics on the number of agricultural engineers in 11 states. The top five states based on the number of jobs were:
- California (270 jobs)
- Iowa (190 jobs)
- Ohio (100 jobs)
- Indiana (90 jobs)
- Texas (90 jobs)
However, the top five states based on mean annual wages were Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania, with salaries that range from $77,000 to $87,000.
Salary and Occupation Outlook
In 2018, the BLS found the median annual salary for agricultural engineers was $77,100. The median annual wages for all types of engineers was much higher — $93,080 — although the top 10 percent of agricultural engineers earn more than $116,850.
Overall, the BLS reports that there were 2,700 agricultural engineers as of 2016 and the number of jobs is expected to increase by 8 percent from 2016 to 2026. The growth rate is slightly higher than the expected growth of all occupations (7 percent) and in line with the expected average growth of all types of engineers.
The BLS notes that graduates with engineering degrees can sometimes find work in related fields. This work can be harder to land, since you'll be competing for a limited number of jobs with engineers who have a degree in a specialization more aligned with these position. However, it is still worth noting because this will open up your options to other types of industries and work.