Biological and Agricultural Engineering

Jun 14, 2013 Debra Cheung


To advance engineering for biological systems. Specifically, to advance the science, teach the principles and application, and disseminate the knowledge of engineering needed to efficiently produce, distribute and process biological products, such as food, feed and fiber, while conserving natural resources, preserving environmental quality, and ensuring the health and safety of people.


The department is administered by both the College of Engineering (CENG) and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CA&ES). Of the 27 faculty associated with the department, 10 have partial appointments for providing advisory service to our teaching and outreach programs and are housed in other departments. The department is also home to one lecturer (SOE) and two Cooperative Extension specialists. The 14 resident teaching faculty have, on the average, 15 percent of their appointments as I&R in CENG, 5 percent as I&R in CA&ES, and 80 percent as OR in CA&ES. Two faculty retirements are anticipated by June 2006.

Major Programmatic Thrusts of the Department

  • Quantitative analysis of agricultural crops and rangeland systems (geographic information systems, precision agriculture, crop simulation and modeling): decision-support systems for cotton and rice, simulation of crop water demand for irrigation.
  • Genetics, genomics, biotechnology and breeding of food and forage legumes, cereals, and cotton: two large NSF-funded genomics project on cotton and wheat; breeding programs for California field crops; crop evolution.
  • Agroecology, forage utilization and grazing ecology: two multidisciplinary, cross-departmental projects on cropping systems (Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems, Long-Term Research on Agricultural Systems); host-microbe molecular signaling.

Program Impact/Ranking

Our department is recognized as the leading one of its kind in the Western United States, and our graduate program is ranked fourth in the country (out of 66) by US News and World Report. Three of our faculty have been elected into the National Academy of Engineering, and many others have received national and international awards.

Extramural Grants and Gifts

Direct cost expenditures for 1997/98 and 1998/99 were $1,237,342 and $1,716,851, respectively. Fund sources included USDA, NIOSH, USDE, California Energy Commission, Caltrans, DANR, and numerous commodity boards and industry sources.

Teaching Programs of the Department

Our department provides instruction in both the CA&ES and the CENG. Although we have no majors in CA&ES, we do offer three minors—applied biological systems technology, geographic information systems and precision agriculture. In 1992, we introduced a new major in the CENG—biological systems engineering. The curriculum has evolved, and seven specializations are now available to students—agricultural engineering, aquacultural engineering, biotechnical engineering, ecological systems engineering, food engineering, forest engineering and premedical/biomedical engineering. The number of student majors has risen from about 60 in 1995, to 159 in 1999 (entry has been restricted due to our limited faculty numbers). Student interest in this major is strong, with 331 and 324 freshmen applications for fall 1998, and fall 1999, respectively. As a group, in 1998 these applicants had the highest Academic Index (9,180 out of possible 10,000) of any major on campus. Our department is the only one in California that offers the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in biological and agricultural engineering. There are currently about 45 registered graduate students. For 1998/99 the Student FTE per I&R Faculty ratio was 15.67 in CA&ES and 24.57 in CENG (average for CENG as a whole was 15.15). Due to our relatively high ratio in engineering we have an urgent need for additional I&R FTE or we’ll need to substantially restrict enrollment.

Outreach/Extension Roles

Our department is the only one in California engaged in research and extension for engineering of agriculture and biological systems. Outreach is provided through formal publications, workshops and symposia. We administer the following research/information centers: Agricultural Ergonomics Research Center, Farm Safety Program, Postharvest Technology Research and Information Center and Western Center for Agricultural Equipment. On the average, we organize one national/international symposium every two years. In 2001 our department will host the ASAE International Meeting in Sacramento.

Potential for Collaborative Links to Other Units to Develop Clusters of Excellence

By their academic training engineers are team oriented. Faculty in the department, therefore, typically collaborate on research with scientists from throughout the CA&ES.

Positions Needed to Improve Research, Teaching and Extension Goals

  1. Biotechnical engineer. Focus: equipment and process design for production, separation, purification, packaging and storage of biological materials for the biotechnology industries.
  2. Bioproduction engineer. Focus: precision agriculture; development of electromechanical systems for production, harvesting and pre-processing of biological products.
  3. Biomechanical engineer. Focus: human factors, with an emphasis on the physical work environment for the musculoskeletal system, at the tissue level.
  4. Bioenvironmental engineer. Focus: controlled-environment biological production of plants, animals and living organisms; bioresource management of ecological systems.
  5. Risk assessment engineer. Focus: database management, GIS, computer simulations and expert systems for design, development and management of ecological systems.
  6. Agricultural systems engineer. Focus: CE specialist in precision agriculture; equipment development pertinent to safe and efficient operation of field and postharvest machinery.

Priorities (No Growth Scenario)

The substantial rise of engineering student majors in our department dictates faculty growth. In their 1999-2006 Academic Plan, the CENG has allocated two growth FTE to the department. Additionally, our department anticipates two faculty retirements before 2006. Positions 1 through 4, listed in priority order, are identified for a no FTE growth scenario in CA&ES.

Priorities (Minimal Growth Scenario)

In addition to positions 1 through 4, listed above, position 5 would be included under the minimal growth scenario. Position 5 ties into the Environment Initiative.


Projected Resource Needs and Strategies for Achieving

In 1992 our department formed a Board of Advisors and subsequently developed a long-range academic plan. While our planning has evolved over the years, prominent growth has consistently focused on precision agriculture and biological engineering. In late 1997, following a gift campaign, we initiated construction of the 18,000 sq. ft. Western Center for Agricultural Equipment that will house our program in precision agriculture. With the transfer of agricultural equipment functions to this new facility, space in Bainer Hall has become available for our program in biological engineering. A need for new space, therefore, is not anticipated over this six year planning period (1999-2006).

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