The sterling work already done through the Chair in Plant Health at Stellenbosch University's (SU) Department of Agronomy is set to continue, thanks to the good news that WinField United South Africa is extending its financial support of the endeavour for another three years. The Chair supports the training of a new generation of agricultural scientists, upskills practitioners in the agri-sector through relevant and accredited short courses and provides leadership development opportunities. Under the leadership of Prof Nick Kotze of the SU Department of Agronomy, it increasingly focuses on research that strengthens and supports the crop protection and plant health spheres.
When launched in 2020, the Chair was the first of its kind focusing on local crop protection in the South African agricultural sector.
“Over the next three years, we want to broaden our research portfolio and the projects pursued by our experts and postgraduate students. We want to help industry find more efficient and environmentally friendly options to turn to when matters related to crop health and crop protection come into play, which ultimately influence profitable farming and food security," Prof Kotze adds.
Applied research is done across a range of crops, such as table grapes, potatoes and grains, with, among others, input from the data science and agri-informatics sectors. The Chair also enjoys links with the University of Minnesota in the United States of America (USA).
He is particularly excited about the preliminary findings of a research project funded through the Chair, which aims to find alternatives to the cyanide-based products currently used to break dormancy in grapevines and fruit trees.
“MSc student, Nicole Venter, has tested a host of more environmentally friendly products from across the world. She has already identified promising alternatives which will be further evaluated during the next term. These products are not yet registered for use in South Africa, and we still need to publish our results," he notes, without letting the cat too far out of the bag.
Despite rising living costs, the Chair has in recent years provided total or top-up funding to 44 postgraduate students pursuing relevant research projects at SU, to ensure that they could successfully continue and complete their studies.
A further 96 undergraduate and postgraduate students in the SU Faculty of AgriSciences have benefitted from attending a two-week-long online Agri-Leadership course. Leading practitioners such as Verity Price, who in 2021 won the worldwide Toastmasters competition, teach them valuable presentation skills, along with financial and project management skills, during this course.
“Some of the students who have already followed this course have described the experience as 'life-changing'," says Prof Kotze. “It provides them with the necessary professional tools to make an impact once they pursue their respective careers."
The Agri-Leadership course for people working in the industry will again be presented in 2023.
The Chair does not only focus on young people, but also on upskilling people who are already part of the agricultural sector through the provision of a series of accredited short courses, hosted by Stellenbosch University. These are presented by SU lecturers in collaboration with experts from the industry and leading international universities.
Short courses on the safe handling of pesticides and conservation agriculture principles in small grain farming were recently presented. The topics to be covered again in short courses in 2023 include application technology in broad acre summer or winter crops, pome and stone fruit and citrus, viticulture for wine grapes, the management of weeds, diseases or nematodes, and the use of adjuvants in crop protection, to name a few. For more information about the selection of short courses offered, visit www.agritraining.co.za.
“At WinField United South Africa, we believe education and practical experience are the foundations of a successful enterprise. Through our ongoing support of this agri-focused chair at Stellenbosch University, we are committed to providing a new generation of skilled people in agriculture. This in turn will equip our industry with the latest scientific knowledge in the field of crop protection," says Mr Marius Boshoff, Chief Strategy Officer, WinField United South Africa.
“The crop protection industry, along with the related plant health input sector, requires a well-trained professional workforce that drives innovation and generates data. This allows us to develop practical insights to assist growers in producing safe, nutritious, and affordable food. Equally important, growers need to improve the profitability of their operations whilst preserving the environment for future generations."
“We are thankful for the ongoing private sector support by WinField United South Africa and other such companies to SU, and the Faculty of AgriSciences and Department of Agronomy in particular. It underlines the quality and industry-specific work pursued by our staff, postgraduate students and their collaborators in industry and academia. It provides valuable support for our mission to be a university that focuses on the needs of the communities we serve," says Prof Sibusiso Moyo, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies of Stellenbosch University.
* For more information on the short courses presented, contact Prof Nick Kotze (email@example.com) or visit www.agritraining.co.za
* The Chair started off as the Villa Crop Chair in Crop Health. Its name subsequently changed when in 2021, the agribusinesses Villa Crop Protection and InteliChem Group merged into WinField United South Africa.
More about WinField United South Africa
The WinField United South Africa (Pty) Ltd Group brings holistic agricultural solutions to the South African industry. Its comprehensive portfolio of offerings brings traditional and innovative crop excellence to the table. The Group places a strong emphasis on growers as they are ultimately the people who feed the growing global and local population. Its headquarters are in Kempton Park, and it enjoys a countrywide distribution and service network.
More about the Faculty of AgriSciences, Stellenbosch University
The faculty was established more than 100 years ago. It is ranked among the top 100 agrisciences faculties in the world, and is the leading such institution in Africa. It is currently the only faculty dedicated to agricultural sciences at a university in South Africa. The SU Department of Agronomy, in which the WinField Chair in Plant Health is based, is one of the Faculty's oldest divisions.