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. The department was synonymous with winter cereals and the department became known for its excellent training and research in this field. Prof. Laubscher's untiring efforts led to the founding of the Cape Winter Cereal Development Association and the Centre for Winter Cereal Research.
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 strong research ties with the Protein Research Foundation and the Winter Cereal Trust in particular. 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. 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.
Dr Pieterse was head of Department from 2009 to end of 2014. During this time stronger ties with the chemical industry was initiated resulting in more funding from companies such as Yara, Bayer Crop Science and Monsanto to name a few.
In January 2015 Dr Pieterse has relinquished some of his duties and handed the reigns over to Prof Nick Kotze. Prof Kotzé has a vast network across the agricultural industry and has facilitated the identification and planning of relevant research projects, and ensured that funding was appropriately. Under his guidance the third income stream from industry multiplied and he was instrumental in obtaining funding and donations from industrial partners.
At the end of 2020 Prof Kotze took up the newly formed Chair in Plant protection, that is situated in the Agronomy department and Prof Pieter Swanepoel succeeded him as head of department till the present. Prof Swanepoel managed to expand the research network of the department immensely during the years that he was involved in the department, in particular since 2020, when he was appointed as head of department. Prof Swanepoel has strong ties with industry and government, and facilitated initiatives that have culminated in a significant increase of UG and PG student numbers, expanded research networks and industry relations, improved infrastructure, and equipment together with increased funding and related research outputs.