Few careers inspire sci-fi like biological and agricultural engineering, and with good reason. While you won’t be reviving dinosaur species, as a biological and agricultural engineer, you could be tasked with solving some of the world’s most pressing challenges, such as maintaining clean water, improving how we create, transport and package food, or developing a new biofuel.
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.
Earning a biological and agricultural engineering degree
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.
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.
Picking a biological and agricultural engineering school
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®.
Biological and agricultural engineering careers
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 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).
Best places to live and work as a biological or agricultural engineer
As of May 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) had statistics on the number of agricultural engineers in 13 states. The top five states based on the number of jobs were:
However, the top five states based on mean annual wages were Wisconsin, Georgia, Indiana, Texas, and Illinois, with salaries that range from approximately $93,000 to about $110,000 as of May 2021.
How much do agricultural engineers make?
In May 2021, the BLS found the median annual salary for agricultural engineers was around $83,000. The median annual salary for all types of engineers was much higher—approximately $99,000—although the top 10% of agricultural engineers earn more than about $127,000.
Are agricultural engineers in demand?
The job outlook for agricultural engineers isn’t as strong as other engineering degrees, or compared to other occupations nationally. As of May 2021, agricultural engineering employment is expected to increase by a mere 1% from 2021 to 2031, according to the BLS report. That said, the BLS also notes that agricultural engineers can find work in other related fields, though they might find the competition a bit steep, as they’ll be applying alongside other engineers with potentially more specialized degrees.