Our History

The Evolving Years

A small group of agricultural engineers who completed their studies since the thirties during the previous century at the University of Pretoria were spread all over South Africa. You could say: In the beginning, the world of the agricultural engineer was desolate and empty – they were unknown and unpopular. There were general opinions about this “new type” of engineer, such as:

“Are you actually a real engineer?
“Where did you get that strange degree? I’ve never heard of it”.
“Oh, you are also one of those quasi-engineers”
“What does an agricultural engineer actually do?”
“An agricultural engineer? I didn’t know they were trained to be farmers!”
“Can you also milk cows?”
“An engineer for agriculture – you must be joking!”.
“Why would we need an agricultural engineer? – a civil or mechanical engineer can do the

Memories of Jabie Bruwer, founding member and ex-President

The earlier agricultural engineers had to uphold themselves amongst such misconceptions and sharp misrepresentation by doing “missionary work” on a limited scale to try to convince the public, academics, politicians, and others of their right to existence.

One of the greatest obstacles on the way to justifiable recognition was the erroneous perception that a Civil engineer plus a Mechanical engineer is equal to an Agricultural engineer. Few people realised and accepted that the much-needed engineering aspects of the agricultural industry were not included in the curriculi of the other established engineering careers at all. Agriculture, with its involvement with natural resources such as soil, water, climate, environment, plants, animals, energy, labour, and finances left, on the eve of modernisation and rapid development of new methods and equipment left the farming community with an enormous vacuum, which could be filled suitably by agricultural engineers with enthusiasm and commitment.

Even when more agricultural engineers were trained at the University of Pretoria and later also trained at the Universities of Natal and Stellenbosch. the prejudice and misconceptions about their careers were still relevant – the STRUGGLE for acceptance still prevailed. There was a STRUGGLE to convince the other engineering professionals of the Agricultural engineer’s justifiable independent right of existence. There was a STRUGGLE to turn the heads of agricultural people such as livestock and agronomy specialists and veterinarians, who claimed the entire agricultural industry for themselves, that they could no longer see agricultural engineers as unnecessary and superfluous. There was a STRUGGLE to counteract the misconceptions about agricultural engineers that existed among the public, and a STRUGGLE to inform potential students on the merits of the good cause and to recruit them for an agricultural engineering career. At the same time, there was even a STRUGGLE to get Universities to create posts for the training of agricultural engineers.

These STRUGGLE ISSUES motivated a group of agricultural engineers to bring together what belongs together by means of the creation of a central organisation that could speak for them and that could guard their interests.

The requirement was strengthened by conditions that developed in South Africa after the Second World war in 1945 when changes in South African agriculture had positive results for agricultural engineers. Large-scale acceptance and application of mechanisation, irrigation, farm electrification, soil conservation, animal housing, and other farm structures required the services of agricultural engineers. These changes on farms created unknown problems for farmers and brought great financial losses because of a lack of, among others, knowledge of mechanisation and water utilisation. In many ways, it was engineering knowledge that was needed. The then government and the Department of Agricultural Technical Services accepted these needs as challenges with the establishment of the division of Agricultural Mechanisation and Engineering in 1961.

Although Agricultural engineers were involved in soil conservation projects on a limited but scattered scale throughout the whole of South Africa before the creation of a specific agricultural engineering division in the department in 1961, agricultural engineers now had the opportunity to provide their expertise to the demand for professional services on a more extended scale and they could perform on the wider working terrains of agricultural mechanisation, irrigation, agricultural buildings and structures. Now they could, by means of their work and achievements, prove their right to existence.

In the early sixties of the previous century, one of the leading agricultural engineers began to realise that the time was ripe for a representative body or institute on a professional level, which would have, among others, the following objectives:

  1. To combine all agricultural engineers in South Africa by means of individual membership into one professional body and to act as the official mouthpiece for them;
  2. To also find recognition and a place in the sun for agricultural engineers, in the light of initiatives that were developing for the establishment of a statutory body for professional engineers, In this regard, it was imperative that agricultural engineers obtain membership of the then Federation of Society of Professional Engineers (FSPE) the Professional Engineers Joint Council (PEJC) the shadow council for the South African Professional Engineers and then later the statutory South African Council for Professional Engineers (SACPE).
  3. To obtain recognition for curriculi of universities in agricultural engineering with SACPE so that graduates can register as engineers-in-training;
  4. To promote the agricultural engineering career on all terrains by means of courses, symposia, meetings, publications, and publicity.
  5. To recruit undergraduate and post graduate students for this field of study and to support them with bursaries.; and
  6. To support universities and technikons that offer courses in agricultural engineering.

Recognition must be given to the late Professor P.J.C. (Piet) Vorster who compiled the concept constitution for the Institute of Agricultural Engineers with these objectives in mind. This was the starting point from which the SAIAE could be established.

Under his chairmanship, a meeting was arranged at the Culemborg Hotel in Pretorius Street, Pretoria on 11 November 1963 at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. The purpose of the meeting was exclusively to reflect on the establishment of the Institute of Agricultural Engineers. Invitations were directed on a personal basis to agricultural engineers from different fields of activity. Forty-four persons attended. Despite sporadic resistance from a few members of EASA (Engineers Association of South Africa), the suggestion to proceed with the establishment of SAIAE was accepted by an overwhelming majority. On this occasion, the members of the First Council of SAIAE were nominated and the first Council meeting under the leadership of the President, Prof Piet Vorster was held at the University of Natal at Pietermaritzburg on 11 February 1964.

SAIAE’s wheels began to roll – and just in time, because during the years 1966 – 1968 the preparatory actions were beginning to gain momentum for the establishment of the statutory South African Council for Professional Engineers (SACPE). When the Statutory Council was established in 1969, the agricultural engineers’ house was in order and they could take their place in the forum of a recognised institutes for professional engineers.

The agricultural engineers’ profession may never forget the timely initiatives of the SAIAE founding members, Today, we can look back with gratitude to the Institute’s actions and success over the past 50 years.

Establishment of SAIAE


A group of dedicated agricultural engineers who could surely be named the “Voortrekkers” or pioneers of SAIAE gathered in the Steyns building in Pretoria in November 1963 to discuss the establishment of an Institute for Agricultural Engineers.

On this occasion, it was agreed that a suggested constitution for such an institute should be compiled. Prof P J C Vorster, the then Head of Department of Agricultural Engineering at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg played a big part therein.

With this important document as a directive, the establishment meeting of the South African Institue of Agricultural Engineers took place on 11 November 1963 in the Culemborg Hotel on the corner of Pretorius and van der Walt streets in Pretoria. Forty-four interested engineers attended the meeting and it was formally and unanimously decided to establish the Institute.

The members of the First Council of SAIAE were elected at this meeting.

They were:

Prof P J C Vorster (President)
Mr J J Bruwer (Vice-President)
Mr G S Bartlett (Treasurer)
Mr P Meiring (Secretary)
Mr C D Feldman
Mr C T Crosby
Prof J A Vorster
Mr R Corte
Mr B J G W Grobler

Prof P J C Vorster
Mr J J Bruwer
Mr C T Crosby
Mr B J G W Grobler
Mr R Corte


The preliminary constitution that was compiled by Prof Piet Vorster was approved at the first meeting of the Council of the Institute on 11 February 1964. The objectives of the Institute were stipulated in the Constitution as follows:

  1. The promotion and development of the science and techniques of agricultural engineering;
  2. The promotion of the agricultural engineering profession;
  3. The promotion and encouragement of research and training in agricultural engineering;
  4. The distribution of knowledge, information and ideas in the agricultural engineering field by means of events and publications;
  5. The creation of mutual meeting events for agricultural engineers and relevant technologies in South Africa;
  6. The establishment of a body that can speak with authority on agricultural engineering matters in South Africa and can recommend and lay down standards and codes for the field of study;
  7. The protection of the interests of members of the agricultural engineering profession and mutual assistance on technical and in other fields.

In the following paragraphs, indications of how the institute pursued these objectives in its constitution by means of its actions and activities over the past 50 years are listed. In summary, the activities are as follows:

  • Arranging of symposia and conferences;
  • Publication of journals, papers, other technical papers, newsletters and laser discs;
  • Awards for merits and achievements to individuals and organisations;
  • Liaison with other professional engineering organisations such as the Statutory Engineering Councils such as the South African Council of Professional Engineers (SACPE) and the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), umbrella organisations, Federation of Professional Engineers (FVPI), Engineers of South Africa (ESA), South African Society of Engineers (SAVI);
  • International liaison with International Commission of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (CIGR) and the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID);
  • Liaison with South African bodies, e.g. Agricultural trade unions and the South African National Committee