Agronomy training and research at the University of Stellenbosch began in 1917 when the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences was founded. At that stage Agronomy and Pastures formed part of the Department of Agricultural Plant Sciences, but became an independent department in 1921 when Dr JS Marais was appointed as senior lecturer and later professor and head of the department. However, Prof. JH Neethling, professor in Agricultural Botany, had already lectured in grain breeding and grain production before the appointment of Dr Marais. Prof. Marais was succeeded by Prof. JTR Sim in 1939 and the latter by Prof. EW Laubscher in 1965.
During his 23-year term (1965-1988) as head of the Department of Agronomy and Pastures Prof. Laubscher played a leading role in establishing impressive research facilities at the Welgevallen Experimental Farm. Under his leadership the name of the department was synonymous with winter cereals and the department became known for its excellent training and research in this field. It also played a leading role in stimulating the adoption of new scientific farming methods. Prof. Laubscher's untiring efforts led to the founding of the Cape Winter Cereal Development Association and the Centre for Winter Cereal Research. After his retirement in 1988, Prof. Laubscher became the first director of this centre in the Department of Agronomy and Pastures.
Prof. PCJ Maree, who succeeded Prof Laubscher in 1989 as head of the Department of Agronomy and Pastures, started a new era when a course in the production of vegetables in greenhouses was added to the traditional courses in agronomy and pastures. Training of students in the production of vegetables in greenhouses was supported by research and the Department of Agronomy and Pastures became known as the premier centre of expertise in this field for the whole of Southern Africa. Prof. Maree retired in 1994.
Prof. GA Agenbag succeeded Prof. PCJ Maree in 1994 as head of the Department of Agronomy and Pastures. During this time the then Wheat Board that funded the Centre for Winter Cereal Research was disbanded and the funding stopped. Prof. Agenbag had to establish contacts with the industry from scratch and under his guidance strong research ties with the Protein Research Foundation and the Winter Cereal Trust in particular were formed. These two institutions are currently the main funding sources of grain crop research in the department. During the 1990's close ties were formed with the Catholic University of Leuven as well as the “Bodemkundige Dienst” in Belgium in terms of fertilization of small grains and vegetables under protection. The Association for Vegetables under Protection (AVUP) was also expanded and the department’s relationship with ASNAPP (Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural Plant Products) was formalized during the first few years after the turn of the century. Ties were also formed with Rutgers University in the USA during this period. The name of the department was changed in 2000 from the Department of Agronomy and Pastures to the Department of Agronomy. Prof Agenbag stepped down as head of the department in 2009 and was succeeded by Dr PJ Pieterse.
More recently, Dr Pieterse has relinguished some of his duties and handed the reigns over to Prof Nick Kotze. Prof Kotze was appointed as the Agricol Chair in 2014, which is hosted by the Dept of Agronomy at Stellenbosch University (SU). Dr Nick Kotze is a former managing director of the seed company Agricol. The newly established Agricol Chair will address the shortage in talented plant breeders and agriculturists in South Africa and on the continent. Experts in these fields are needed to keep grain farming, livestock farming and the vegetable industry in South Africa, and in Africa, healthy and flourishing. Another strong focus of the Chair is the recruitment of postgraduate students in Agronomy. This discipline includes, among other things, aspects of agriculture and crop production. Dr Kotzé has a vast network across the agricultural industry and has facilitated the identification and planning of relevant research projects, but also to ensure funding is appropriately channeled to the studies conducted by SU researchers. Dr Kotzé worked for the former Department of Agriculture in Potchefstroom and at Elsenburg before joining Agricol in 1994 as director of research and development. Dr Kotzé, who hails from Nieuwoudtville, was appointed as the company's managing director in 2011. He completed his doctoral studies at Stellenbosch University on the crop rotation possibilities of using the pasturage medics together with corn. He also obtained a MBA at the Stellenbosch University Business School. Dr Kotzé served on the board of the South African National Seed Organization (SANSOR) for many years and continues his involvement as member of the SANSOR pasturage committee.