Academic programs in agricultural science were established in the University of Sydney in 1910 with the appointment of Robert Dickie Watt as the Foundation Professor in Agriculture. From the outset it was intended that "the University teach the main principles of scientific investigation relating to agriculture, not the mere details of agriculture", and this principle has guided the Faculty throughout its development.
Professor Watt became the driving force behind the construction of the original facilities for teaching and research in agricultural science, leading to the completion of the RD Watt Building in Science Road in 1916. The Faculty of Agriculture was established in 1920 with Professor Watt as the first Dean. Professor Watt retired in 1946 and was succeeded as Dean by JRA McMillan who presided over a period of rapid growth, during which the Faculty expanded its teaching and research facilities substantially, and the curriculum diversified, including the introduction of opportunities for students to specialize in a range of agricultural disciplines. Extensive facilities for teaching and research in animal science were developed at the Camden Campus from the 1950s; the IA Watson Grains Research Centre was established in 1959 at Narrabri 550 km north west of Sydney in the wheat belt. A new research centre for the Plant Breeding Institute was constructed at Cobbitty, near the Camden campus, in 1991 with laboratories, controlled environment facilities and field areas for plant breeding, cereal rust research, and research in plant molecular biology and biotechnology.
Keith Campbell was appointed as the first Professor of Agricultural Economics in Australia in 1956. The continued growth in this discipline led to the establishment in 1983 of the Bachelor of Agricultural Economics degree. There has been a major expansion of research in agricultural economics, in areas such as agricultural policy, applied marketing, international trade, agricultural finance, agribusiness management, agricultural production and resource economics. More recently, several other degrees have been established to meet the demands for graduates with more specialized training - the Bachelor of Horticultural Science was introduced in 1996, the Bachelor of Resource Economics and Bachelor of Land and Water Science in 2000, and the Bachelor of Animal Science in 2002.
From an early stage, the Faculty gained an international reputation for research. Its cereal rust research and wheat breeding programs were established in the 1920s and continue as major programs today, with a strong emphasis on molecular biology. Research on rhizobia and biological nitrogen fixation was initiated in the 1940s and is still a strength. No-tillage (direct drilling) research was established in the 1950s and was expanded into all main areas relating to sustainable agriculture in the 1960s and 1970s. More recent major research emphases include environmental protection, the management of natural resources, and precision agriculture. The Sydney University Centre for Nitrogen Fixation (SUNFix) and the Australian Centre for Precision Agriculture (ACPA) are based in the Faculty, and the Faculty has a major involvement in Cooperative Research Centres associated with the wheat, cotton and rice industries.
The Faculty has a long involvement in training international graduate students and in collaborative research projects with other countries, including China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. This work is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), AusAid and the International Development Fund.
The first graduates in Agriculture in the University of Sydney were produced in 1914. Since then, several thousands of Bachelor, Master and Doctoral degrees have been awarded. Many of these graduates have gone on to high positions in the community and have contributed significantly to the development of the Australian and international agricultural and resource industries.
In 2001, the Faculty was renamed Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the Department of Microbiology was transferred to the Faculty of Science. Subsequently, in 2002 the Faculty adopted a non-departmental organizational structure.