A new look, new tenants, a new shared vision and a new name. This is the story of the Winter Cereal Building Block 6 on Stellenbosch University's (SU) Welgevallen experimental farm. The building reopened last week after extensive renovation work, and is now to be known as the AgroHub.
According to Prof Danie Brink, acting dean of the Faculty of AgriSciences, the building was underutilised for SU purposes, and in addition was old, dilapidated and no longer employee friendly. It was therefore decided to make the building more fit for purpose, and to lease office space to research-related entities in the agricultural industry.
Space has since been taken up by HORTGRO Science, Citrus Research International (CRI) and Agricolleges International, as well as the Plant Breeding Laboratory of the SU Department of Genetics. The building is currently 75% let and negotiations are also under way with other entities.
Funding for the upgrade came from the Central Strategic Fund of Stellenbosch University and its Faculty of AgriSciences. In addition, HORTGRO Science contributed R1 million for the refurbishing of the building, while CRI International signed a long-term lease agreement.
Deon den Hartog of DHQS Projects, and Junaid Gafieldien of SU Facility Management headed the project.
"The project is much more than just a matter of effective space utilisation, but will increasingly help facilitate transdisciplinary research opportunities between the University and other research entities," Prof Brink said at the official opening. He believes it will ensure closer cooperation between industry partners. According to him, the project is part of the "new way" in which institutions in the higher education sector are increasingly functioning.
Prof Brink used the opportunity to thank the agricultural industry in general, as well as loyal partners like the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, for their support of agricultural education and research at Stellenbosch University for nearly a century. He was of the opinion that continued industry partnerships help to keep the Faculty relevant, at the forefront and on track.
At the opening function, Willem Botes of the Plant Breeding Laboratory (PBL) also provided an overview of the upgrades done at Welgevallen that have strengthened the University's cereal breeding activities. New agricultural equipment such as a Wintersteiger experimental harvester and planter, drones and a self-driving tractor were obtained over the past few months. A Perten near-infrared spectroscope (NIR) was also purchased for the quality store.
According to Botes, the funding for the purchase of the equipment mainly comes from DST (facilitated by Grain SA) and THRIP (a DTI initiative). These are valuable additions to the PBL's wheat pre-breeding programme.
- Industry partners interested in renting office space in the AgroHub can contact Dr Michael-John Freeborough, faculty manager of the Faculty of AgriSciences: firstname.lastname@example.org or 021 808 4802
Meet the AgroHub's new "residents":
- HORTGRO Science is HORTGRO's research arm. Their staff do research to promote the deciduous fruit industry, among others, while projects and initiatives by other institutions such as SU also receive generous funding. This includes a chair in the Department of Horticultural Science, among others, as well as many projects by Matie researchers and students.
- Citrus Research International (CRI) does research and makes technical inputs to especially the Southern African citrus industry. CRI operates three offices countrywide: in Nelspruit, Port Elizabeth and Stellenbosch. The organization's chief executive officer, Dr Vaughan Hattingh, and phytosanitary specialist Elma Carstens have offices in the AgroHub. The CRI enjoys alliance partnership with various research institutions. Several CRI scientists work in departments of the SU Faculty of AgriSciences, among others.
- AGRICOLLEGES International works in the field of agricultural education. This cloud-based e-learning institution is using the Brightspace learning management system (LMS) to provide students with affordable, accessible and industry-relevant agricultural course content – hopefully from 2018 onwards. AGRICOLLEGES international has forged a strategic alliance with Stellenbosch University that will serve as a portal for the establishment of an e-learning curriculum from NQF 5 level.
Attending the opening ceremony were (from left) Dr Vaughan Hatting of Citrus Research International, Mr Richard Krige of the Wintergrain Trust, Dr Tharina Theron, SU senior director: research and innovation, Ms Theresa Sonnenberg of HORTGRO Science, and Prof Danie Brink, acting dean of the SU Faculty of AgriSciences. Photo: Engela Duvenage