Kansas State University
Source: Kansas State University

Biological and agricultural engineers are vital to protecting the necessities of life. They devise practical solutions for storing agricultural products, solve problems related to biological materials, and think of alternative uses of natural resources — all with a constant eye towards protecting people, animals and the environment. 

Take the work done by Bear Flag Robotics, for example. They are developing autonomous tractors with a twist — by adapting the sensors and actuators needed for driverless ploughing to existing tractors produced by major manufacturers.

Such projects are crucial to increase productivity in all phases of agriculture — a task that has become increasingly urgent. Feeding a world population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 poses many multi-faceted challenges, according to the summary of a United Nations report released in August. The effects of climate change — extreme weather, soil loss, migration pressures — will strain land and water resources further, potentially disrupting food supplies.

It speaks volumes of the demand for skilled biological and agricultural engineers. Their roles have never been more pivotal in sustaining human life and advancing big goals for humanity. A degree and career in this field is a big step towards meaningful impact and making a difference in the world.

If this is the future you seek, here are three universities renowned for nurturing graduates who have made a significant impact in the world:

The Carl and Melinda Helwig Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at Kansas State University aims to advance the knowledge and application of engineering and technology to living systems, agriculture and the environment. Source: Kansas State University

Kansas State University

The Carl and Melinda Helwig Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at Kansas State University offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees that advance the knowledge and application of engineering and technology to living systems, agriculture and the environment. Here, you learn to make a difference locally and globally by developing ways to protect and manage natural resources, alternative energy sources, and systems to provide food and fibre to a growing global population. 

It’s an inspiring journey — one that does not need to stop at just one degree. Qualified applicants can earn a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in five years through the accelerated BS/MS programme in biological systems engineering.

At the undergraduate level, expect to interact with faculty members a lot thanks to abundant undergraduate research opportunities. These take you to the lab and the field and during summer, internship opportunities let you upskill in a practical setting. At the graduate level, many students are fully funded, with tuition waived and a living stipend provided. 

Recently, K-State BAE launched the interdisciplinary Institute for Digital Agriculture and Advanced Analytics. This people-centred hub will transform learning, research and outreach around digital technologies and advanced analytical methods. Work done at the institute will include developing and integrating analytical methods and digital technologies — like sensors, automation and robots — to enhance food production and inform decision-making for sustainable and resilient systems. BS in Agricultural Technology Management, which covers areas such as precision agriculture, production agriculture, and water management, are set to benefit the most from this institute.

Don’t see a programme you’re interested in? As part of K-State BAE’s new Biomanufacturing Training and Education Initiative, more new courses on biomanufacturing are set to be offered in 2024. The new 2,300-square-foot Biomanufacturing Laboratory Facility will house modern lab equipment to support hands-on training and complementary analytical techniques. To learn more about admissions to this unique department, click here.

Students learn “in the field” on its 494-hectare University Farm that harbours dairy, sheep, pig, poultry and a rich scattering of crops. Source: Harper Adams University/Facebook

Harper Adams University

Helping create a more sustainable future today, especially with the effects of climate change, takes a lot of work and isn’t easy. Harper Adams University, however, is up for the task.

Since it was founded in 1901, Harper Adams has enjoyed a reputation of excellence in agriculturally-focused teaching, working beside the UK’s rural sector to add meaning and relevance to its research and teaching activities. Those in the BEng (Hons) or MEng Agricultural Engineering programmes learn to develop machines, systems, and environmental solutions to reduce input consumption, increase precision and create sustainable production systems.

Here, you’ll learn “in the field” on its 494-hectare University Farm that harbours dairy, sheep, pig, poultry and a rich scattering of crops. Since this site encompasses the university’s central campus, students are able to investigate the entire food chain, straight from farm to fork. The farm functions as a platform for research as well, playing a role in developing sustainable land use to improve animal health and welfare, water quality, soil health, and biodiversity. 

Beyond campus, industrial placements bring invaluable real-world experiences, such as working on the next generation of agricultural machinery such as robotic farming. As a result of these features, 99.2% of graduates are in employment within 15 months of graduation, the highest in the UK.

The strength of Wageningen University & Research lies in its ability to join the forces of specialised research institutes and Wageningen University. Source: Wageningen University/Facebook

Wageningen University

Dubbed one of the world’s most sustainable institutions, Wageningen University nurtures future biology and agricultural engineers through the combined forces of specialised research institutes and the university. Here, hands-on coursework incorporated into the programmes will allow you to gain the necessary real-world experience in your chosen profession while still at university. 

Take the MSc in Biosystems Engineering, for example. It focuses on the development of technology for the production, processing and storage of food. Through six thesis tracks, you’ll be able to further explore your interest in Farm Technology, Geo information science and Remote Sensing, Environmental Technology, and many more. An internship component is incorporated in the second year of the programme. If you seek innovative solutions for challenges in agriculture and food production, flexibility to develop your individual study programme and the application of engineering skills in a living environment, this is the ideal programme for you.

In the MSc Resilient Farming and Food Systems, students can explore sustainable food production from both natural and social perspectives. Action learning and research projects help to put theory into practice. Chair groups at Wageningen University are valuable in complementing what is taught within the classroom. 

 *Some of the institutions featured in this article are commercial partners of Study International