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What is an Agricultural Engineering Degree?
Agricultural engineers combine knowledge of engineering with biological science to improve sustainable agricultural production. They design irrigation, drainage, and flood- and water-control systems, livestock housing structures, greenhouses, silos, food storage facilities, food processing plants, and equipment for ground preparation, seeding, spraying, harvesting, and transporting agricultural goods.
The agricultural engineering curriculum prepares students for this role with courses in computer-aided modeling and engineering, fluid power, measurements and instrumentation, agricultural robotics, natural resource conservation, and engineering properties of biological materials.
• It is important to select a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
• At some schools, degrees in agricultural engineering may be offered as degrees in biological and agricultural engineering.
Bachelor’s Degree in Agricultural Engineering – Four Year Duration
Common areas of emphasis in agricultural engineering bachelor’s programs include mechanical design, structures, electronic and control systems, irrigation, agricultural safety, renewable energy and waste treatment, and resource information systems. At this level, students also take support courses in bioengineering fundamentals, microbiology, mechanics of materials, general chemistry, computer programming, electronics, economics, calculus, physics, and statistics. ‘Learn by doing’ labs and field trips are integral components of the curriculum.
Here is a snapshot of the major’s core courses:
• Careers in Agricultural Engineering – introduction to careers associated with agricultural engineering and agricultural systems management; professional engineering registration process; engineering problem solution and report format; design procedures; engineering fundamentals
• Laboratory Skills and Safety – introduction to fabrication and construction materials in the field of agricultural engineering; fabrication skills in the development of wood, metal, and concrete projects, and creative design; strength tests of wood, fasteners, concrete, and student design projects
• Design Graphics and CAD for Agricultural Engineering – visual communication in engineering design and problem solving; principles of freehand sketching and computer-aided drafting (CAD); using CAD software; 2D projections; land grading design using 3D drawing software
• 3D Solids Modeling – introduction to 3-dimensional modeling using state-of-the-art software; model generation and modification
• Fundamental of Electricity – application of electricity in biological and agricultural engineering; topics include basic electric circuits, wiring materials, code regulation, electrical measurements, system planning, motors, basic electronics, and an introduction to computer usage
• Agricultural Structures Planning – planning of facilities in production systems; materials and processes used in construction of agricultural structures; environmental factors affecting crop storage structures and animal housing; design of structural environments to meet the needs of commodities, animals, and plants
• Introduction to Mechanical Systems in Agriculture – introduction to elements used in the mechanical transmission of power and force in agricultural systems
• Principles of Irrigation – land grading design, operation, management, and evaluation of irrigation methods
• Engineering Surveying – field measurement using levels, robotic stations, real-time kinematic (RTK) GPS receivers, and data collectors; topographic surveys, topographic mapping, building layout, road design; geodetic survey, aerial mapping, geographic information systems (GIS), and remote sensing
• Hydraulics – static and dynamic characteristics of liquids, flow in open and closed channels, uniform and non-uniform flow, flow measurement, and pumps
• Principles of Bioresource Engineering – theory and applications of bioprocess technology in biological and agricultural systems; engineering properties of biological materials and organisms; basic unit operations, fluid mechanics, and heat/mass transfer as applied to bioprocess technology
• Measurements and Computer Interfacing – transducers and engineering measurements in agricultural engineering; topics include transducer characteristics, signal processors and controllers, instrumentation techniques, and the use of the computer in the measurement and control of typical engineering problems
• Irrigation Theory – plant-water-soil relations examining evapotranspiration (the sum of evaporation from the land surface plus transpiration from plants), plant stress, soil moisture and depletion, irrigation frequency and depth, salinity management, infiltration, drainage, and climate control
• Environmental Controls for Agricultural Structures – design of internal environments to meet the needs of commodities, animals, and plants; thermodynamic and psychrometric (concerned with the physical and thermodynamic properties of gas-vapor mixtures) principles for agricultural structures; heat transfer, insulation, and refrigeration; sensing, monitoring, and controlling environmental factors affecting crop storage structures and animal housing
• Agricultural Systems Engineering – engineering and economic principles combined with mathematical optimization techniques to evaluate parameters in agricultural production and processing systems; project planning techniques, linear and nonlinear modeling, response surface methodology; professional responsibilities in agricultural engineering including ethics, patents, copyrights, and liability
• Irrigation Engineering – design of on-farm irrigation systems; micro, surface, and sprinkler irrigation systems; canals and pumps; economics and strategies of pipe design and pipeline protection
• Equipment Engineering – design, fabrication, and construction of specialized agricultural components and equipment
• Agricultural Robotics and Automation – agricultural applications of signal processing, control theories, machine vision, and robot basics for agricultural production and processing; agricultural automation and the use of robotics in field applications; engineering approach to problem solving and experimental data analysis
• Agricultural Structures Design – structural analysis and design of agricultural service and processing buildings; use of wood, metals, and reinforced concrete in light construction
• Energy for a Sustainable Society – how the transition can be made from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources including hydro, biomass, solar, and wind; energy conservation
• Water Wells and Pumps – water well drilling, design, and development; pump characteristics and design of pump intakes; pump testing
• Senior Project Organization – selection and organization of a senior team project; involves time management, research techniques, budgeting, project presentation, and documentation of the team experience
• Senior Project Operation, Testing, and Safety – preparation of an operation, maintenance, and safety manual for projects fabricated in earlier courses; development of a memorandum and video documenting the design, fabrication, and testing phases; final oral group presentation
Master’s Degree in Agricultural Engineering – Two Year Duration
At the master’s level, students select thesis research projects and supporting coursework from a range of interest areas.
Sample Areas of Research
• Renewable biofuels
• Bio-nanomaterials (molecular materials composed partially or completely of biological molecules, such as antibodies, proteins/enzymes, DNA, viruses, and cells)
• Bioproducts development
• Synthetic biological engineering
• Biological and food process engineering
• Biosensors and instrumentation
• Food safety engineering
• Natural resources engineering for sustainability of water and land use
• Biowaste management and utilization
• Ecological systems
• Machine systems for biomass / bioenergy production and feedstock logistics
• Plant, animal, and microbial production systems
• Agricultural safety and health
• Particulate materials processing and modeling
• Structures and controlled environments of agricultural and biological facilities
• Modeling of biological systems
Doctoral Degree in Agricultural Engineering – Four to Five Year Duration
The Doctoral Degree in Agricultural Engineering is aimed at students interested in intense independent study and research. The program consists of a written and oral comprehensive preliminary examination, advanced coursework, extended and in-depth research, a written dissertation, and a final oral defense of the research.
These are common areas of specialization and possible topics of study within each area:
• Carbon capture, sequestration, and utilization
• Conversion of biomass into biofuels and bioproducts
• Pharmaceuticals / nutraceuticals
• Fermentation and product separation technologies
• Processing, handling, and storage of biological products
• Industrial enzymatic reactions
• Sensor and computer technologies for the development of process control systems
Controlled Environments for Agriculture
• Aquaculture engineering
• Agricultural air quality
• Post harvest processes
Data Analytics and Integrated Modeling
• Identifying risks to food, water, and energy systems
• Nexus of food, water, and energy systems
• Technical-economic assessment
• Life cycle assessment
• Systems and processes optimization
• Stream and river restoration
• Habitat reconstruction
• Ecology conservation, wetland protection, and restoration
• Green infrastructure
• Water and air pollution control
• Environmental restoration and protection
• Irrigation and drainage
• Liquid and solid waste management
• Low impact development
• Stormwater management
• Water resource engineering
• Water and wastewater treatment
• Public health and water quality
• Land management
• Environmental policy and law
• Environmental fluid mechanics
• Fluvial hydraulics and sediment transport
Precision Agriculture and Machine Systems
• Decision support systems
• GPS and remote sensing systems
• Precision agriculture and smart machinery
• Machine systems and robotics
Sustainable Waste Management
• Animal waste management systems
• Wastewater and solids waste treatment
• Animal nutrient management
• Waste utilization
• Livestock air quality and odors
• Land application systems
• Animal emergency management
Degrees Similar to Agricultural Engineering
Degree programs in this discipline teach students about one or more aspects of general agriculture. Coursework may cover topics like farm management, crop science, animal husbandry, agriculture technology, soil science, and food distribution.
The focus of biochemistry is the chemical processes and reactions that occur in living matter. Biochemists apply principles of both biology and chemistry to issues in many different sectors, including the environment, medicine and health, industry and manufacturing, agriculture, biofuels, and marine science.
Majors in this field study engineering and the life sciences to create new products – such as vaccines, medicines, growth hormones for plants, and food additives – for the agricultural, industrial, and environmental industries. Among typical classes are biochemistry, general biology, cell biology, chemistry, and genetics.
This degree field is focused on the processes of design and planning of civil infrastructure like roads, tunnels, bridges, dams, railroads, and airports. In their work, civil engineers are concerned with such things as how much weight a structure can support and the environmental issues presented by construction. The emphasis of civil engineering degree programs is math, statistics, engineering systems and mechanics, building codes, and statistical analysis.
Students of environmental engineering learn how to apply principles of engineering, soil science, and chemistry to environmental protection and restoration. They examine issues like climate change, pollution, deforestation, the supply of energy resources, and population growth.
The subject matter of food science degree programs spans the areas of biology, biochemistry, and chemical engineering. Students learn how to apply these foundations to examine food properties and develop foods that are sustainable.
Forestry degree programs teach students how to conserve and manage forests through sustainable practices. This means the curriculum covers both preserving biodiversity, as well as producing wood products in ecologically responsible ways. Classes also address contemporary issues like climate change, carbon management, and how to plan and manage urban forests or green spaces in metropolitan areas.
Hydrology is about the active nature of water, the movement of precipitation. Hydrologists study surface waters like rivers, lakes, and streams and examine how rainfall and snowfall cause erosion, generate caves, and permeate soil and rock to become groundwater or flow to oceans and seas. Students of hydrology study these and other aspects of the field. They learn about water management methods, land use, environmental issues, and how to collect water data, interpret statistics, conduct computer modeling, and use geographic information systems (GIS) and the global positioning system (GPS).
Degree programs in manufacturing engineering teach the skills required to design, implement, monitor, and improve manufacturing processes to increase productivity.
Natural Resource Management
Natural resource management is about finding ways to sustain the Earth’s resources in the face of the growing human population. Majors in this discipline are typically passionate about clean water, clean energy, and clean environments. They study in the classroom, in the computer lab, and in the field and learn how to apply scientific and ecological knowledge, as well as economic and social awareness to find solutions to preserving our natural world.
Soil science degree programs are focused on the formation, ecology, and classification of soil. Students take courses in seed science, fertilizers, geology, weed science, and genetics.
Skills You'll Learn
• Attention to detail
• Complex problem solving
• Computer and electronics savvy
• Critical thinking
• Judgement and decision making
• Knowledge of design techniques, tools, and principles
• Ongoing learning
• Oral and written communication
• Presentation skills
• Production and processing
• Project management
• Safety awareness
• Systems analysis
• Time management
What Can You Do with an Agricultural Engineering Degree?
Agricultural engineers are hired by:
• Agricultural chemical or fertilizer companies
• Agricultural machinery manufacturers
• Agricultural, biological, and engineering consulting firms
• Agriculture and food processing research and development firms
• Colleges, universities, and professional schools
• Farms and farming cooperatives
• Federal, state, and local government departments and agencies (example: Natural Resources Conservation Service)
• Food inspection agencies
• Irrigation and drainage system manufacturers
• Power utilities
• Alternate fuel producers
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