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29 January 2019 | Story Xolisa Mnukwa | Photo Anja Aucamp
Prof Francis Petersen speech
“We can create an institution that operates and lives in the times of embracing and celebrating diversity, inclusivity, and academic excellence by ensuring that students own their time at university,” said Prof Francis Petersen.

25 January 2019 marked the official welcoming of the University of the Free State’s (UFS) first-year students, as they moved into their respective residences and were warmly welcomed on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus. This day also marked the start of the registration process for first-year students.

According to first-year Psychology student Keisha Claasen, who moved into her residence earlier on 25 January, her first experience of the UFS was daunting but exciting, as she had never been in a similar environment. According to Given Gwerera, who dropped his son off at the Karee residence earlier the day, “the UFS is an institution with great culture and an overall good academic record.” He further explained that he trusts his son to make full use of the opportunities presented to him, as he has a cool head on his shoulders.

On the evening of 25 January, an eager group of millennials, joined by their parents, took the first sip from their cup of varsity life as they assembled on the Red Square of the Bloemfontein Campus to meet the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, members of Rectorate, the deans of all faculties, and the Student Representative Council (SRC) of the UFS.

“2019 will be a year of continued change; the UFS is thrilled about the prospect of bringing about opportunities for adaptation and realignment to the future,” said Prof Francis Petersen.

He further explained that the university prides itself in moulding its students into well-rounded individuals who will develop into globally competitive graduates as required in a diversity of landscapes. Prof Petersen urged first-years to remain open to the technological developments that go with globalisation, because of its permanent effects on society today.

First-years were further advised to take advantage of the rich pool of academic research and knowledge that is characteristic of the university and is piloted by UFS scholars, by engaging with and learning from them.

The inspiring night concluded on a colourful note, as the audience enjoyed an artistic laser show in front of the Main Building. Caption:

“UFS academics conduct research that forces the world to take note,” said Prof Francis Petersen at the official first-year welcoming ceremony on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus.

News Archive

Plant-strengthening agent enhances natural ability of plants to survive
2015-07-27

Drought, diseases, and fungi. These are factors that farmers have no control over, and they often have to watch despondently as their crops are damaged. In addition, the practice of breeding plants in special and strictly-controlled conditions, has resulted in crops losing the chemical ability to protect themselves in nature.

Researchers in the Department of Soil, Crop, and Climate Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS) have developed an organic agent that restores this chemical imbalance in plants. It enables the plant to build its own resistance against mild stress factors, and thus ensures increased growth and yield by the plant.

ComCat®, a plant-strengthening agent, is the result of extensive research by the German company, Agraforum AG, together with the UFS. Commercialisation was initially limited to Europe, while research was done at the UFS.

“Plants have become weak because they were grown specially and in isolation. They can’t protect themselves any longer,” says Dr Elmarie van der Watt from the department.

Dr Van der Watt says that, in nature, plants communicate by means of natural chemicals as part of their resistance mechanisms towards various stress conditions. These chemicals enable them to protect themselves against stress conditions, such as diseases and fungi (biotic conditions) or wind and droughts (abiotic conditions).

Most wild plant varieties are usually well-adapted to resist these stress factors. However, monoculture crops have lost this ability to a large extent.

The European researchers extracted these self-protection chemicals from wild plants, and made them available to the UFS for research and development.

“This important survival mechanism became dormant in monoculture crops. ComCat® wakes the plant up and says ‘Hey, you should start protecting yourself’.”

Research over the last few years has shown that the agent, applied mostly as a foliar spray, subsequently leads to better seedlings, as well as to growth, and yields enhancement of various crops. This is good news for the agricultural sector as it does not induce unwanted early vegetative growth that could jeopardise the final yield ? as happened in the past for nitrogen application at an early growth stage.

“The use of synthetic agents, such as fungicides which contain copper, are now banned. Nowadays, options for natural and organic agriculture is being investigated. This product is already widely used in Europe, but because farmers are often swamped by quacks, the South African market is still somewhat sceptical.”

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