A History of Purdue Agronomy 

Purdue University was organized in 1869 and classes began in 1874. Departments in the College of Agriculture derived from “courses of study” listed in class catalogues. The word agronomy appeared in the 1905-1906 catalogue. In the 1907-1908 catalogue courses in soils and crops were grouped under a main heading of “agronomy,” which was the first indication of an independent agronomy curriculum.

Agronomy was established as a department in the Agricultural Experiment Station in 1908. Alfred Wiancko became the first Head of the agronomy department in the Agricultural Experiment Station. 

The Agricultural Department was established in 1903. The departments of agronomy, agricultural engineering, and agricultural economics were established from the Agricultural Department with the term “agronomy department” was used in place of Agricultural Department for the first time in 1910. In 1911 the soil fertility work of the chemical department was combined with crops work and the agronomy department in the Agricultural Experiment Station was changed to soils and crops department. 

In 1916 Professor Martin L. Fisher was named head of agronomy instruction in the School of Agriculture. He held that position until 1926, when he became Dean of Men. Wiancko became head of the agronomy department in the Agricultural Experiment Station and the School. He held both positions until his retirement in 1943.

Dr. George D. Scarseth became head of agronomy in 1943, but resigned in 1944 to accept an appointment as Director of Research at the American Farm Research Association. Norman J. Volk was appointed head in 1944. He also served as associate director of the Agricultural Experiment Station, and in 1948 being associate director of the Agricultural Experiment Station took his full attention. 

Dr. John B. Peterson, Professor of Agronomy at Iowa State University at that time, was appointed the fifth head of agronomy in 1948 and served in this position until 1971. During the 23 years of Dr. Peterson’s leadership the department more than doubled in size of faculty and gained national recognition. In 1971 Dr. Marvin W. Phillips, a Purdue Agronomy faculty member since 1961, was named head of the department. He remained department head until June 30, 1991. 

Dr. William W. McFee, a member of the department since 1965 was appointed head in 1991 and served until 2001. Craig A. Beyrouty, Professor of Agronomy at the University of Arkansas, was named head in 2001 becoming the eighth head of the agronomy department serving until 2009. Dr. Beyrouty left Purdue to become Dean of Agriculture at Colorado State University.

Dr. Herbert W. Ohm, Distinguised Professor of Agronomy, was appointed interim department head until September 30, 2010 and on October 1, 2010, Dr. Joseph M. Anderson, USDA/ARS and Adjunct Professor of Agronomy was appointed department head. Dr. Anderson had been an adjunct faculty member since 1993.

More History

Former Agronomy Faculty 

History of Soil Survey 

History of Lilly Hall of Life Sciences 

History of Small Grains Breeding at Purdue 

Technology in the Classroom

The Beginnings of the Agronomy Farm 

A History of Climatology at Purdue University


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Department of Agronomy, 915 West State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2053 USA, (765) 494-4773

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