The agri-food engineer can pursue a professional career in numerous areas. His classic fields of expertise are:

Text adapted from Paul Heinemann, «Where can you discover the WOW! In agricultural and biological engineering careers?», Resource, special issue November/December 2012 publiée par American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, p.4-5.

 

For agri-environment engineering

Structures and environment engineering

construction

Structures and environment engineers design and build greenhouses and animal housing, storage structures for food products, and waste handling facilities. In particular, these engineers design the systems that provide environmental control for these facilities, including ventilation systems and equipment that heats, cools, lights, reduces harmful emissions, and controls conditions in and around specialized agricultural facilities, such as plant growth chambers, bioprocessing laboratories, commercial greenhouses, animal production facilities, cotton gins, grain elevators, and food processing plants.

Photo: Research Dairy Farm, University of Saskatchewan. DHG Enginnering / Constructions Yves Choinière

 

Power and machinery engineering

machinerieModern agricultural machines must be mechanically sound and biologically sensitive, and onboard computers are becoming standard equipment. These machines are designed and tested by engineers educated in a power and machinery curriculum. To keep up with the growing demand for innovative, high-tech equipment, equipment manufacturers need more university-trained engineers. Power and machinery graduates are commonly employed by farm equipment manufacturers, but they also qualify for positions outside the farm equipment industry. Many have found engineering employment with other companies, including industrial facilities and manufacturers of construction equipment.

 

Soil and water engineering

sol-eau

Soil and water engineers study the interaction of plants, animals, and humans with soil and water. They seek ways to control soil erosion and reduce the effects of sediment and surface runoff on water quality. They design, build, and maintain drainage and irrigation systems for agricultural operations as well as water control structures for reservoirs, floodways, and channels. They also design equipment for applying fertilizers and pesticides. Soil and water engineers are experts in the principles of hydrology. They must also understand chemistry, environmental science, and the mechanics of water and wind erosion.

 

Environmental quality engineering

environnement

Environment concerns are in the news: food processing plants are asked to reduce the pollutants returned to estuaries and bays, large-scale livestock production systems affect local water and air quality, and questions arise about the sustainability of the seafood industry. These and other environmental issues illustrate the opportunities available for engineering graduates who understand the Earth’s sensitive ecosystem and the biological and physical treatment of pollution. The demand for environmental engineering graduates has never been greater, because everyone must do a better job of protecting and improving the environment.

Photo: Composter-pasterizer. Environnement MJ inc.

 

Bioenergy

energie

Our society runs on energy, which is produced in many ways, including the combustion of fossil fuels like coal and gasoline. Too often, harmful substances are released when producing or using energy. These waste products cause air and water pollution and may contribute to global warming. Biological and agricultural specialists are developing alternative energy sources, such as plant-based fuels and solar power systems. These energy options may help sustain our quality of life while reducing adverse effects on the environment. These specialists also seek ways to conserve energy and improve the environment using current technology. Alternative energy is a growing field, and energy conservation will pose ongoing challenges for the future.

 

Aquacultural engineering

aquaculture

Aquaculture refers to raising fish and shellfish to sell as food and for other uses, such as ornamental and bait fish. Aquacultural engineers concentrate on increasing production while decreasing costs and environmental impacts. They seek ways to reduce pollution from aquaculture production systems, reduce excess water use, and improve ponds and other fish-rearing systems. They also work with aquatic harvesting, sorting, and processing systems. Agricultural and biological engineers who specialize in water quality, biotechnology, power and machinery, natural resources, food processing, environment, and sanitation are well-suited for careers in this expanding field. As natural fish supplies decline around the world, aquaculture is an area that will continue to grow.

Photo: Fish farm. Dominique Marcotte, MAPAQ.

 

Forest engineering

foret

Forest engineering applies physical, biological, and engineering skills to solving problems in natural resources and environment, forest production systems, and related manufacturing industries. Forest engineers are involved in a full range of activities in natural resource management and forest production systems, and their engineering skills and expertise are needed to address problems related to equipment design and manufacturing, design and construction of forest access systems, machine operation and erosion control, forest ecosystem management and improvement, and wood product design and manufacturing.

 

Photo: Agroforestry (Short rotation poplar). René Morissette, AAC

 

For food engineering

Food and process engineering

bioreacteur

Food and process engineers work on the boundary where biology meets engineering. They combine design expertise with large-scale manufacturing to develop the processing methods needed by industry. They are experts in food pasteurization, sterilization, freezing, and dehydration as well as packaging, transportation, and storage of perishable products. They also use microbiological processes to produce fermented foods, fuels, biochemicals, and pharmaceuticals, and to treat municipal, industrial, and agricultural wastes. Increasing concerns about food safety and environmental protection are creating a growing demand for food and process engineers.

Photo: Methane biodigester. René Morissette

 

Bioprocess engineering

alimentaire

Bioprocesses include bioreactors, fermenters, and other systems for the production of pharmaceuticals, vitamins, preservatives, and food supplements. Bioprocess engineering also includes the use of biological organisms to produce energy, including fermentation to produce ethanol and anaerobic digestion to produce methane. Graduates in this new, rapidly expanding field pursue careers in medicine, biomedical engineering, environmental engineering, natural resources, agriculture, and related areas.

 

Bionanotechnologies

nano

This sector focuses on the use of living organisms and bioprocesses in engineering, medicine, pharmaceutical, etc. Bionanotechnologies include the study of biological systems at the nanoscale by instruments and imaging tools. Food engineer, by his knowledge of systems of living organisms, can have a role to play.

Photo: Live bacteria cells surrounding the root hair zone. Bionanolab.ca

 

 

Both agri-environment and food engineering

Information and electrical technologies engineering

electronique

As in other industries, information and electrical technologies provide agriculture with increased efficiency, reliability, and safety. Information and electrical technologies are used throughout modern agriculture, from radio-frequency identification collars on livestock, to electronic yield monitors and obstacle sensors on harvesters. The future of this field is very promising, and includes combining computers and sensors with mechanical systems for automated harvesting and sorting of produce, and using satellite-based guidance systems and robotic actuators to create tractors and combines that steer themselves across the field.

Photo: Wireless controler for cranberry field pumping. MecatronicDL.com

 

Standards and safety

securite

Modern agriculture depends on mechanization, but these large machines can present hazards, especially when combined with long hours and solitary working conditions. Manufacturers strive to build equipment that is safe to operate and maintain by following industry-wide safety standards. Using injury data, field tests, and laboratory analysis, safety specialists study the use, and possible misuse, of agricultural machines, and help ensure the equipment’s compliance with safety regulations. To keep informed of new standards, they often participate in the organizations that develop these guidelines. Safety specialists and engineers are employed by equipment manufacturers and government agencies, and they often work as consultants.