An interest in machinery, engineering and a hands-on, practical approach to learning are among the traits you will need to study agricultural engineering, Munster Technological University’s (MTU) Kerry campus in Tralee teaches the rest.
Dr Daniel Riordan is head of the Department of Technology, Engineering and Maths at MTU and explains exactly what the course has to offer to students.
“Agricultural engineering is about the design of agricultural machinery,” he explains. “It involves mechanical engineering, electronic engineering and design aspects, but also a knowledge of agriculture.”
On the engineering side, the course involves modules from mechanical engineering with the addition of agriculture specific modules, covering subjects such as soil, animal husbandry, dairy production, agri planning and agribusiness management.
Technical drawing – both hand- and computer-aided drawing (CAD) – is an important component of the course.
Daniel explains: “That is a big part of the course because our graduates are design engineers and they will be involved in the design of agricultural machinery.”
There are also modules on electronics, computer simulation of machines, product design, project management and maths.
MTU offers both an NFQ Level 8 (four-year programme) and an NFQ Level 7 (three-year programme) Agricultural Engineering course. Students pursuing the Level 7 will exit with a bachelor of engineering (BEng), while Level 8 graduates will hold a bachelor of science (BSc).
There is a lot of leniency in the course and it caters towards different entry ways and progressions.
For example, Daniel says: “If somebody takes on the Level 7 or the Level 8, they might like to exit after two years – things change in people’s lives – and they can exit with a higher certificate Level 6.
“Similarly, if they enter the Level 7 course, which requires fewer points in the CAO (for example), as long as they get through and graduate with a Level 7, we welcome them onto the year four to get their Level 8.”
The ag engineering course is synonymous with practicality.
“We’re very much into the practical application of work,” Daniel explains. “One thing we feel is very true is that you can’t really design something unless you know how it’s going to be made.
“For example, in first year, all of our students learn practical machining skills with plastics and metals. They learn how to work in the workshop. They learn to weld and the different types of welding. They also learn how to cut and shape metal and plastics. It’s very practical and hands on.”
Daniel continues: “We have a large garage with a lot of machinery; a lot of tractors and farm machinery. Everything they learn in the classroom about farm machinery, they’re then taken down to the garage and they’re shown.”
Most modules also contain elements of project work, both as team work and individual projects. Especially in the final year of both Level 7 and Level 8 courses, students have a large project where they have to design a product from scratch over the two semesters.
Third year also includes a work placement for 12 weeks, which in most cases is paid and can be done either in Ireland or abroad.
Opportunities to progress
There is a strong demand for engineers and an agriculture engineering degree is very transferrable to different sectors within the larger industry.
“A lot of our graduates work with agricultural machinery companies, like Dairymaster, Abbey Engineering and McHale,” Daniel says. “They don’t necessarily end up in ag machinery companies, though – they also end up in general engineering roles for other companies which require an engineering degree. They are trained specifically for agriculture and designing agricultural machinery, but they can operate as engineers in most fields.”
Don’t fear maths
If you are interested in studying agricultural engineering, there are some Leaving Cert (LC) subjects you can choose that will be beneficial in the course. Technical drawing, physics, any engineering or science subjects and biology are all good choices.
Daniel says that there are many students who worry about the maths modules in the course.
“Most engineering courses require honours maths as an entry requirement, but we don’t,” he says. “We’re more a believer in being able to do basic mathematics to a very high standard.
“In first year, our pass mark for maths is 80%,” he continues. “It’s 40% in every other module. The reason is that it’s basic maths – it’s quite straightforward. We’re not asking anybody coming out of this degree to be a world class mathematician. We’re asking that they are able to execute basic mathematics to a very high standard and reliability.”
For anyone who is worried about maths, Daniel says that it is just a matter of putting the hours in to get better. Ultimately, it is “nothing to be afraid of”.
Females in engineering
It is no surprise to anyone that engineering is a male-dominated field – something that might be even more noticeable in agri engineering.
“Women are in the minority across any engineering course,” Daniel admits. “But maybe it’s a little bit more pronounced in agricultural engineering, because both engineering and agriculture are under-represented. But there’s nothing at all stopping a woman taking this on.”
Daniel couldn’t be more right – currently, one of the best students across all four years is a woman and the course features many female lecturers.
“One of the female lecturers is a chartered engineer; she’s more focused on the project management and work placement area,” Danny says.
“One of our other female lecturers is an agricultural engineer. She studied in IT Tralee (now MTU Kerry) and [also at] Harper Adams in the UK. She teaches a lot of our very practical courses and also agricultural mechanics – engines, transmissions and tractor performance. Along with lecturing, she does a lot of work in the garage itself with the agricultural machinery and is an expert in sprayer technology.”