A career in land-based engineering is a great way to combine technical ability with the latest developments in science and technology.
Fast-paced and diverse, jobs in land-based engineering create solutions for engineering problems in forestry, agriculture, horticulture and environmental management. Highly skilled engineers help use resources more effectively and sustainably by designing, developing, operating and maintaining the technology and tools of the future.
It’s a fast-growing industry, thanks to new technology and the rise of techniques like precision farming which allow agricultural land to be released while maintaining food production levels. This creates opportunities at all levels for people who can develop new solutions, as well as maintaining existing technology and equipment.
If you’re looking for a fast-moving career with lots of opportunities to progress and work in different environments, land-based engineering could be for you. As well as solving engineering problems and developing machinery solutions for agricultural, ground care, horticulture, forestry and sports turf businesses, engineers also advise farmers and businesses on agricultural concerns, such as sustainable land use and irrigation.
There are over 3,000 agricultural, turf care, dairy and forestry equipment dealerships in the UK
Enterprise Ireland (EI) has identified agricultural machinery as one of the dominant engineering sub sectors within Irish engineering, and that this industry has significant growth potential in the coming years
Land-based Engineers can work with technically advanced products such as GPS, drones, robotics autonomous vehicles and alternative fuel sources
There are a wide range of diverse career opportunities available to you in the Land-based Engineering sector.
William completed a Modern Apprenticeship with Kerr Farm Engineering in Ayrshire and now works for the business as a land-based engineer.
“Growing up on a farm and being fascinated by the ways in which mechanics managed to fix things gave me a driving passion to get into agricultural engineering.
One of the most rewarding things about my work now is being able to arrive at a job in my own van, suitably prepared and equipped to carry out a successful repair and then producing a happy customer.
A highlight was completing my first clutch job on a tractor, as I had to really push my technical skills to the limit.
There are lots of paths open to you in this industry, so I’d encourage people to try as many things as possible. The possibilities are endless and extremely rewarding professionally and personally.”
Technology can be used to help farmers and growers in several ways – examples include global positioning system (GPS) driven precision farming equipment adapting their operation to maximise their efficiency at that location, sensors used on irrigators to assess the moisture level of the soil then varying the quantity of water required, and monitoring devices used on livestock to alert of any health or welfare issues. Advancements allow farmers to make data-driven decisions and forecasting, ultimately leading to better practices and improved accesses to food products.
We spoke with Edwin Nichols of Drone Ag about how he started his career with technology, his current role and how drones can be used the support farming activities.
What is your name, company name and job title?
Hello, I am Edwin, the Drone Systems Lead at DroneAg. As a member of a small yet agile organisation, I fulfil a range of responsibilities as necessary. Our company is located near the town of Alnwick, situated in the countryside of Northumberland.
What does Drone Ag do?
Our primary focus is centred on software development and the provision of drone systems. Additionally, we provide training on the usage of our systems for agricultural purposes, as well as for other related products in the market. Our overarching objective is to facilitate efficient and streamlined farming practices by providing software and training for done systems. Specifically, our product offering encompasses automating crop scouting, and enhancing overall farming productivity.
What are your typical jobs on a given day?
Daily, we start our workday by addressing standard email inquiries, which may regard either sales or custom support requirements. A significant portion of our time is dedicated to manual in-house app testing. In addition, we are supporting a multitude of funded and personal projects. We have the freedom to explore varied opportunities for the implementation of technology into land-based sectors. As a team, we attempt to broaden our social media outreach, which will enable us to reach new audiences and promote our products. Finally, to ensure effective communication and coordination, we conduct daily meetings and participate in onboarding calls for training purposes.
What skills are valuable to your role?
In my job, I use different skills to help the company. Good time management is one of these skills that helps me do things on time and work better. Being able to speak confidently to groups is also important because it helps me explain things and talk with people who are interested in what the company does. This is especially important when selling because a good presentation can generate more interest in buying our products or services.
Are there any qualifications/skills/experience needed to get into your type of role?
Different jobs at the company need different things. To work in software development, you usually need to have gone to college, but for sales, it's not always necessary to know about agriculture, even though it can be helpful. I have studied agriculture and have a degree in it, which has been useful in my current job. I also keep up with new technology by taking short courses and getting certificates to fly different types of drones. Our company believes it's important to help employees learn new skills. For example, we recently hired someone who only had A-level qualifications, but they've already learned how to test apps and are now enrolled in a programming course.
Is technology important to your role?
Without a doubt, we firmly believe that technology represents the future of agriculture. As the world's population continues to grow, the need for increased food production is becoming more pressing. Naturally, there is always the possibility that some of our ideas may not succeed, but we remain steadfast in our commitment to utilising technology to maximise productivity and efficiency in agriculture.
How can this technology be used to make farming practices more productive?
Robots can work 24/7 resolving problems in the field, using knowledge from farmers to help with this and working alongside other companies collaboratively. We pride ourselves working alongside other tech firms to accomplish industry wide goals of technological advancement. There is new technology constantly being developed and it is a very exciting sector in which to be involved.
How can this have a positive impact on the land-based sector?
I think it will have a positive impact as it will be great to see more young people in the sector. Majority of what we see are individuals coming from ‘farming families’ so it would be nice to see others who present new ideas/views. They may have a lack of practical knowledge, but this can be learnt on the job.
Is there anything unique about your product?
We are one of the very few companies that are combining automated drone imaging and artificial intelligence - we are farmers who know drones. Our app ‘Skippy Scout’ helps people make more informed decisions on their crops.
Are there busier times of the year than others?
Yes, absolutely the harvest period to drilling is quite a busy time for farmers, as well as us. The rush period starts in Spring with March and April being busy. The summer months are busy with attending trade shows to connect with new customers and other organisations in the industry.
Does your job involve a lot of travelling?
Yes, I have done quite a lot of travelling, mostly Europe and Canada. It is one of the benefits of the job, and as there are opportunities for Drone Ag around the world, we are looking to expand further. We get to experience the tech culture of different markets on visits, as well as gaining a bit of local agriculture knowledge.
What’s the best part of your job?
For me, it’s going to the various trade shows, meeting new people, and working on different ideas to optimise farming operations. Most of our ideas come from our clients, and we take their advice seriously. Technology can be applied to agriculture in many ways, and this is always an exciting prospect.
Is there anything you are particularly proud of?
Yes, I was the third employee of the company when I first started. Now there is a team of twelve, and we are still expanding in Europe. I started in my role following a working placement year as an intern in university. The pay was initially quite low, but I stayed due to seeing potential in the business and its future. It is important to realise experience can be worth much more than money - you make a choice to work with a company. The future is always unknown but especially with technology roles, it’s believing it will develop into something bigger and better.
Are there any challenges in your job?
Yes, the main challenge is that we are engaging with farmers in working environments, so it can be difficult for them to change their practices. If you can ensure they will be making more money and get people to understand how using drones can truly help the process, then that’s a great outcome.
How is your job supporting sustainable agriculture?
A majority of Ag tech is there to make processes greener and more efficient. Using less chemicals and pesticides is a clear benefit that comes with using technology to optimise operations.
If you had to convince someone else of the benefits of a career in your line of work, what would you say to them?
I would say every day is different - I have many friends that work in offices and complain they must do the same thing each day. This is one of the things you never get in technology as you are constantly trialling and testing new equipment.
What do you think the future looks like for your company?
It’s an exciting time - we are planning to expand the team this year as we have several large projects which need various expertise. We are also expanding abroad, bringing our solutions to new markets will be a step in the right direction for Drone Ag.
Are there any future skills already identified?
That is quite difficult to say because things are constantly changing quickly. You must have the willingness to learn all the time, even if you have been in the sector for a long time. Furthermore, a belief in the future of agriculture is important. Looking forward is the best way to generate new ideas and provide solutions.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We are keen for young people to get involved in the industry and the best place to start is to ask around. Even on social media, be confident enough and ask if roles are available, this shows that you are keen and have a level of interest.