Areas of specialisation in agricultural engineering

As more farms are located remote locations due to scarcity of land suitable for farming, there is an increasing need for environmentally friendly civil infrastructure to support these operations. Furthermore, farming today is more complex than it was a few decades ago due to the expansion of operations, the need to speed up time-to-market to enhance profitability as well as increasing government regulations. As a result, farming operations require the help of agricultural engineers to deliver solutions that will address their infrastructural, technology and mechanical needs in order to enhance productivity.

Agricultural engineer spans across a number of specializations including:

• Civil and Structural Engineering: This area of engineering focuses on the design, construction and installation of infrastructure such as bridges, dams, ports and etc. In the agricultural sector, civil engineering structures in a farm can range from the piping design of an irrigation system, dams (if close to a water source) to deliver hydroelectricity, wind turbine structures, power transmitter towers, access roads and the structural elements of buildings.
• Mechanical Engineering: This specialization deals with the mechanics of machines and structures. In a farm operation, this area of engineering deals with the mechanics of farm equipment, the parts which run the irrigation system, wind turbines, power generators, livestock feed as well as bulk material handling and transportation systems.
• Electrical Engineering: Electrical engineers deal with the design of electronic devices as well as information technology. In the agricultural sector, electrical engineers design remote telecommunication systems that provide internet and telephone service to the farm, resource management software that records and monitors inventory, expenses and revenue which integrate with the farm’s financial software system. They also design and implement GPS devices on livestock to keep track of livestock locations; sensory devices to monitor the growth stages of crops; timing devices for material handling and irrigation systems; and tracking systems for farm vehicles.
• Noise and Vibration Engineering: Noise and vibration can potentially create negative impacts on structures and animals. These engineers often work with environmental engineers to comply with government regulations to ensure that the machinery used on the farm do not harm livestock or damage the buildings.
• Environmental Engineering: With the increasing emphasis placed on sustainable farming practices, there is opportunity for environmental engineers to work on projects of farm operations. These projects range from assessing the environmental feasibility to build the farm on the proposed site; through assisting the farm to obtain environmental approval to develop the proposed site; to assessing the noise and vibration conditions developing sustainable farming practices to comply with regulatory standards.
• Health and Safety System Design: These engineers focus on promoting the safety and well-being of workers on farms. Farming is one of the professionals with the highest lost-time due to injury instances because of the number of hazards and machinery involved in the operation combined with the influx of seasonal workers who may or may not have received safety training on the job. From the design of safety training materials and conducting training sessions to developing check lists to comply with regulatory standards to conducting on-site safety audits, these specialists play an important role in keeping workers healthy and safe.

Because not all colleges have an agricultural science department and therefore may not offer programs in agricultural engineering, students who pursue a career in this area may consider studying in an engineering program that provide internships with farm operations. For more information on admission requirements or career prospects, students are encouraged to have a further discussion with their school counselors or the college’s admissions department.

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