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What Is Agricultural Engineering?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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Agricultural engineering improves the efficiency, safety, and environmental sustainability of activities like farming. Members of this discipline apply engineering knowledge to challenges ranging from the design of better irrigation systems to soil conservation. Colleges and universities in a number of regions offer agricultural engineering majors or training in related topics that can be applied to a career in this field. Numerous career opportunities with government agencies, private companies, and nonprofit organizations are open to people with experience and training in this aspect of engineering.

Activities within this discipline are quite broad. Environmental topics like soil, water, and air health are a matter of concern, as are more mechanical challenges like the design and use of farming equipment. In agricultural engineering, engineers strive to make farming more efficient to improve crop yields per unit of land and increase the nutritional value of crops. Knowledge of environmental science topics like soil conditioning is necessary for some people who work in this field.

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Sustainability is also a topic of interest to many specialists in this discipline. Farming techniques should not deplete or damage the land. Engineers can develop new approaches to designing and handling farm equipment as well as facilities like barns, stables, drying sheds, and so forth. Their work may also encompass land re-use and reclamation, such as the conversion of wetlands to farmlands and vice versa. Natural resources must be handled responsibly to ensure they will be available for future generations, and this is an important part of the work in agricultural engineering.

Various engineering disciplines can contribute to agricultural engineering activities. Projects may require collaboration from specialists in a number of areas to cover a number of possible issues and concerns that may arise. A more efficient irrigation system, for example, can require input from hydrologists, soil scientists, and other specialists as well as engineers to design and implement the system. These scientists work together to create systems that meet farming needs while protecting the environment.

Members of this field may also engage in retrospective review and evaluation. Agricultural engineering can have a forensic component when people want to know how and why crops fail or need to explore other topics, like inadequate disaster response. Sometimes it can involve the review of historic and archaeological evidence to learn more about farming practices used by earlier human societies, and what might have gone wrong with these practices. A specialist in agricultural engineering, for example, can study ancient aqueducts to learn how societies like the Romans moved and used water.

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