Agriculture engineer: job description and requirements

Updated 6 June 2023

Agricultural engineers specialise in agricultural, horticultural and forestry engineering. They design equipment and vehicles, install systems and assess the environmental impact of various processes. If this role interests you, learning about what it entails, including its required qualifications, can help you decide whether it aligns with your career goals. In this article, we explain what an agriculture engineer is, outline what the job involves and explore the responsibilities, skills and requirements for this role.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

What is an agriculture engineer?

An agriculture engineer specialises in the engineering requirements of the agriculture, forestry and horticulture industries. They work on machinery and vehicles for the agriculture industry, such as harvesters, tractors, ploughs, balers and various off-road vehicles. Agricultural engineers also design systems for drainage, irrigation and land reclamation. Additionally, they might install this equipment and service the machines. These professionals also assess the impact of agricultural activities on the environment and how to avert adverse environmental effects. Another name for this position is a land-based engineer.

Related: 8 different jobs within agriculture (examples and salaries)

What does an agricultural engineer do?

Knowing what an agricultural engineer does and how you might qualify to work in this profession can help you determine whether this career matches your personal and professional ambitions. Here are some of the tasks and responsibilities of this role:

Designing vehicles

Agricultural engineers have an in-depth understanding of mechanical engineering, which they use to design vehicles and machines for agriculture, forestry and horticulture work. These vehicles include tractors, harvesters, skidders, forwarders, cultivators, planters, bale lifters and spreaders. Other machines and systems they might design include those for irrigation, drainage, milking, grain processing and a range of other farming, forestry and horticultural activities.

Related: What is automotive engineering? (With career info)

Maintaining and repairing machinery

While owners and operators may repair and maintain their own agricultural and related machinery, some tasks require the specialist attention of an agricultural engineer. This could mean replacing faulty or old parts and performing repairs and inspecting machines for signs of damage. Agricultural engineers can also advise users when it's time to replace their machinery.

Installing systems

The various systems that agricultural engineers design often require their input during installation. This includes systems for irrigation, drainage and land reclamation. In some cases, this involves overseeing and supervising a team of farm or forestry employees. Agricultural engineers also ensure that the team performs the work properly and that the user can use the system following its installation. They do this by demonstrating the system and providing advice to the user. In addition to agricultural and other systems, these engineers might also oversee the construction of farm buildings, such as barns and silos.

Related: How to become a service engineer (with duties and skills)

Responding to emergencies

Farmers, horticulturalists and foresters may encounter emergencies during their work. Agricultural engineers may attend to these emergencies, particularly if they relate to systems on a farm or in a similar area. These emergencies might include malfunctions in machinery, power cuts or natural disasters, such as flooding.

Performing environmental assessments

Agricultural engineers understand the physical environment and how various human activities might affect it. They often consider environmental factors when designing new machines or vehicles. They perform environmental assessments to assist them in this work. This can also be useful for identifying the most appropriate machine or system for a particular task. Environmental assessments evaluate factors such as soil erosion, water levels and flood risks. An engineer may perform these assessments to prepare for a subsequent installation or to evaluate the effects of existing systems.

Related: A guide to land and environment jobs (including salary info)

Consulting with clients

After acquiring experience in this role, agricultural engineers could advance to become consultants and provide advice to a wide variety of clients in the agriculture, forestry or horticulture industries. Using their knowledge and experience, they might suggest solutions to various issues, advise clients on methods for improving efficiency and design custom solutions for specific tasks. In other cases, they might consult with clients who want to understand the environmental impacts of their work. As consultants, these engineers may work independently or for an organisation.

Researching and teaching

If they acquire additional qualifications and experience, an agricultural engineer could transition into academia. This might entail teaching students at universities and researching. In this role, an agricultural engineer follows a syllabus, lectures and guides the education of students. Their research work might involve working in a laboratory to develop new ideas and concepts or publishing their research findings in academic journals.

Related: How to become a research engineer: skills and qualifications

Requirements to become an agricultural engineer

Consider the following steps to learn how to become an agricultural engineer:

1. Finish your A-levels

Becoming an agricultural engineer may involve acquiring a university degree or completing an equivalent level of post-school education. For this reason, you require some A-levels to be eligible, with the number of A-levels depending on the route you choose. For example, if you decide to pursue a bachelor's degree, you require two or three A-levels. Some universities may require you to have good grades, such as C or above (4 or higher). If you opt for a foundation degree, requirements typically include at least one A-level.

For college courses and apprenticeships, the qualification level determines the entry requirements. If you start with a level 2 or level 3 qualification, you'd typically require between two and five GCSEs.

Related: Engineer requirements, plus degrees, certificates and skills

2. Get a degree

One route to becoming an agricultural engineer is to complete a bachelor's or foundation degree in a relevant subject. This would usually mean a degree in agricultural engineering or agricultural machinery engineering. Other subjects to consider include environmental or mechanical engineering. A bachelor's degree typically takes three years to complete, while a foundation degree usually takes one year.

Related: 12 types of engineering degrees (with career options)

3. Complete college courses

College courses can be a useful way to get started, especially if you lack the requirements to start at a higher level, such as a degree. You could start with a Level 2 Diploma in Land-based Technology or a Level 3 Diploma in Agricultural Engineering. A T Level in Agriculture, Land Management and Production is also a useful option.

4. Pursue an apprenticeship

Another route into the profession is to look for an apprenticeship, which would typically be an advanced apprenticeship. The benefit of apprenticeships is that you earn a salary and get practical experience while learning, with a fifth of your time for study and the remainder in the workplace. A good option is to look for a land-based engineering technician advanced apprenticeship, which typically takes 36 months to complete.

Related: What are engineering apprenticeships? (Plus additional FAQs)

5. Develop your skill set

Agricultural engineers benefit from a combination of hard and soft skills to do their job. There are opportunities to develop these skills during your studies, in the workplace and through further training once you start working. Here are some skills to develop if you want to become an agricultural engineer:

  • knowledge of engineering

  • knowledge of the environment

  • design and creativity skills

  • analysis and critical thinking skills

  • problem-solving skills

  • attention to detail and thoroughness

  • innovation and ingenuity

  • knowledge of farming, horticulture and forestry

  • flexibility and adaptability

  • good verbal and written communication

  • computer-aided design skills

  • leadership and supervision

Related: Engineering skills: definition and examples

6. Register

Becoming a registered engineer can improve your job prospects. Agricultural engineers can register with the Institute of Agricultural Engineers (IAgrE). This entails becoming a registered engineer with the Engineering Council (EngC). Two tiers recognise you as either an incorporated engineer (IEng) or a chartered engineer (CEng). Eligibility is by an accredited bachelor's degree or certain higher national diplomas. You can check the full list of requirements on the EngC website.

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