Agriculture Engineer

What is an agricultural engineer? An Agricultural engineer combines knowledge of engineering with biological science to the field of agriculture to improve sustainable agriculture production. Agricultural engineers are involved in many diverse projects, including the design of machinery and structures and the development of methods to conserve soil and water to improve the processing of agricultural products.

At a Glance

Imagine you are standing in a hilly field of potatoes watching as a crane slowly lowers a 10-metre section of aluminum pipe into a freshly dug trench.

Behind the crane, a crew is busy welding the pipe sections together. You are watching all this activity because this is your design.

You're an agricultural engineer who specializes in designing irrigation systems, which is why the local irrigation district has hired you.

Several summers of drought conditions have decreased the productivity of dry-land fields, and the irrigation district needed to find a way to extend its system and carry water to the parched areas. You have been brought in to design a system of piping and reservoirs that will give farmers the water they need to grow their crops.

As an agricultural engineer, you combine your knowledge of pipeline design and construction with information on the area's geography, climate, and crop rotations to design a new system for piping irrigation water from the district's canals to dry-land fields.

You gather information on the local water table and historical weather data, particularly the longest periods between rainfall, as well as the water demands of different crops, so you know how large to make the reservoirs and connecting pipes.

Then you look at localized elevation and slope changes to determine the optimal placement for the reservoirs. These reservoirs need to be downgraded from the canal, so the forces of gravity will keep the water moving.

Finally, you use your irrigation schedule and water-flow rates to determine the type and size of pipe needed.

When completed, water will flow from the canals through a system of pipes you have designed and into reservoirs from which farmers can pump the water onto their fields.

Job Duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an agricultural engineer:

  • Plan, design, and supervise the building of irrigation, drainage, and flood- and water-control systems
  • Plan, design, and supervise the construction of agricultural buildings and storage facilities, such as livestock structures, greenhouses, silos, and cold-storage facilities for apples
  • Design and evaluate equipment used for ground preparation, seeding, spraying, harvesting, and transporting agricultural goods
  • Ensure design is consistent with local codes and all required permits obtained.
  • Supervise the cleaning, milling, grading, mixing, processing, cooling, packaging, and distribution of agricultural products
  • Prepare and present technical reports, meet with clients, and communicate technical concepts to colleagues and clients with non-technical backgrounds
  • Conduct research to find new sustainable ways to produce food and fibre for consumers
  • Conduct research for the design of innovative new structures and systems
  • Conduct research to develop new technologies and management practices for food production and animal waste disposal that protect environmental resources
  • Monitor environmental factors that affect animal or crop production
  • Act as a supervisor and oversee construction and production operations
  • Collaborate with clients, contractors, consultants, technicians, and other engineers

Work Environment

Agricultural engineers work in a variety of locations, including:

In the office:

  • Doing paperwork, analyzing data, and preparing reports
  • Drafting construction plans and designing computerized management plans
  • Planning projects, administering, and managing budgets
  • Developing educational programs to help improve agricultural productivity
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, farmers, stakeholders, and government departments and presenting to clients designs, ideas, and recommendations
  • Researching and collecting background information and consulting with other engineers and professionals

In the field:

  • Touring and inspecting sites and establishing demonstration sites
  • Troubleshooting and advising clients on the correct operation of systems
  • Testing designs and recommending changes
  • Taking measurements and recording data and observations
  • Installing and testing monitoring equipment

Where to Work

Agriculture technicians can find work in a variety of places such as:

  • Farms and farming cooperatives
  • Agriculture and food processing research and development firms
  • Agriculture technicians work in a variety of locations, including:
  • Agricultural chemical or fertilizer companies
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, or municipal government departments
  • Agricultural, biological, and engineering consulting firms
  • Food inspection agencies

Search for jobs on the ECO Canada job board.

Education and Skills

If you are a high school student considering a career as an agricultural engineer, you should have strong marks or an interest in:

  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Calculus
  • Biology

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an agricultural engineer is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an agricultural engineer, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Chemical Engineering

You will need to work for two or three years as an Engineer-in-Training (EIT) and then write a professional practice exam. A post-graduate degree, master's degree, or Ph.D. may be required and can improve your employment prospects and salary. To practice as a Professional Engineer, you must be licensed with a provincial or territorial engineering association.

Common engineering associations include APEGA, and the Canadian Society of Professional Engineers (CSPE).

You may also find our Certified Environmental Professional (EP) certification valuable.


Hard/ Technical Skills (skills obtained through formal education and training programs)

  • Computer coding software, ie. C/C++, Java, Python
  • Knowledge of agricultural regulations and legislations
  • Knowledge of design techniques, tools, and principles
  • Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology.

Soft Skills (personal attributes and characteristics)

  • Project management
  • Oral and written communication
  • Confidence in preparing and giving presentations
  • Critical thinking

Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with soft skills. Watch our free webinar “Essential Not Optional: Skills Needed to Succeed in Canada’s Environmental Industry” or take our Essential Skills courses.

Role Models

Patrick Ménard

The most interesting part of his job for Patrick Ménard is the "human element." "We develop a relationship with our clients, the farmers, on the job. Also, I enjoy being able to work outdoors, especially during the summer months." "My job is very diverse and changes with the seasons. In the summer we work mostly outdoors, checking the state of our clients' (the farmers) fields and working on conserving resources-preventing soil erosion.

During the winter we work closely with farmers to provide them with farm-produce plans. This takes about three days to one week for each client." "We work on the computer using air photos of the client's land to determine the quantity of land surface, the contours of the fields, the exact location of fields, etc." Patrick's job focuses on change over the long term. "We like to take a slow approach to change, using testing and training to help bring changes in farming habits about.

We check fields for erosion that is caused by the slope or angle of the fields, and based on that we suggest new ways of working the soil." To maintain the soil, Patrick encourages farmers to use proper aeration techniques, keep residues on the ground and use different planting techniques. Patrick trained for his position through a three-year college/CEGEP program and studies at an agricultural college in Quebec.

Your Impact

Agricultural engineers help to make farming sustainable, safe, and environmentally friendly. This is done by analyzing agricultural operations and looking at new technologies and ways of doing things to improve land use, increase yields, and conserve resources.

While agricultural engineers may choose to specialize in certain areas, most are involved in certain core activities.

These core activities include designing and testing agricultural machinery, equipment, and parts as well as designing food storage structures and food processing plants. Some agricultural engineers’ work may involve designing housing and environments for livestock.

Agricultural engineers look to reduce crop loss resulting from damage during handling, sorting, packing, and processing. They also play a part in the planning of heating, cooling, ventilation, post-harvest handling, logistics and more in the storage of food.

Alternatively, agricultural engineers may be involved in creating more effective solutions to waste disposal and integrating technology with livestock production. Or in planning and developing methods for land preparation, planting and harvesting using automation, precision, and smart or "intelligent" technologies with new and existing equipment.

Those interested in sustainability may provide advice on water quality and water pollution control issues. Others may be involved in agricultural waste-to-energy projects and carbon sequestration (absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the soil, crops and trees).

The role of an agricultural engineer can vary and encompasses many skills to improve sustainability in the agricultural sector.

Occupational Classification

Those employed as agricultural engineers may be classed as the following:

What is a NOC Code?

The National Occupation Classification (NOC) provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. It gives statisticians, labour market analysts, career counsellors, employers and individual job seekers a consistent way to collect data, describe and understand the nature of work within different occupations.

The NOC is developed and updated in partnership with Statistics Canada to coincide with the 5- year census cycles. It is based on in-depth occupational research and consultations conducted across Canada, to reflect changes in the Canadian labour market.

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