The teaching of agriculture at the University of Maryland began with the opening of the Maryland Agricultural College in 1859. The college initially offered courses in agriculture, chemistry, geology, mineralogy, surveying, veterinary surgery, botany, entomology, and ornithology, as well as courses not directly related to the field of agriculture, such as philosophy, history, English, and other modern and ancient languages. The establishment of the Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station at the college almost thirty years later, in 1888, enhanced the focus on agriculture. The station's original purpose was the investigation of those agricultural problems of most interest and concern to the farmers of the state and the publication and dissemination of the results of such experiments. It has worked closely with agricultural faculty, staff, and students since its inception. Agriculture remained a primary element of the curriculum when the Maryland General Assembly created the University of Maryland in 1920 by merging the campuses in Baltimore and College Park.
The new University of Maryland in College Park was originally divided into thirteen educational units, including the College of Agriculture. The college consisted of departments and courses in horticulture; agronomy; plant morphology and mycology; plant physiology; plant pathology; forestry; dairy husbandry; animal husbandry; and poultry husbandry. Subjects taught also included animal pathology and veterinary medicine; bacteriology and sanitation; geology and soils; farm management; zoology, which included general zoology, entomology, bee culture, and fish culture; farm equipment; and short courses in agriculture. P. W. Zimmerman, former professor of plant industry, was the first dean of the College of Agriculture. In 1925, Harry J. Patterson, who also served simultaneously as director of the Agricultural Experiment Station, succeeded Zimmerman. Patterson was followed by Thomas B. Symons in 1938, who held a joint appointment as director of the Extension Service.
After 1920, the focus of the university expanded beyond agriculture to become a more balanced center of learning, offering courses in a number of diverse fields including anthropology, Asian and East European languages and cultures, computer science, engineering, and a host of other majors in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. The university grew enormously during the years after World War II. Gordon M. Cairns (1951-1979) led the college for the majority of this period of change, and the college remained an active part of the campus, as well as the local, national, and world agricultural communities.
Following the tenure of Gordon Cairns as Dean of the College of Agriculture, the college underwent a rapid succession of leaders: Earl H. Brown (1980-1981), Larry N. Vanderhoef, acting (1981-1982), Donald A. Hegwood (1982-1986), Raymond J. Miller (1986-1989), Paul H. Mazzocchi, acting (1989-1993), and Craig Oliver, interim (1993-1994). Thomas A. Fretz served as dean of the college for ten years from 1994-2004. After Fretz stepped down to become Execturive Director of theNortheastern Regional Association of State Agricultural Experiment Directors, Bruce Gardner served as acting dean until the current dean, Cheng-i Wei, accepted the position in 2006.
In 1995, the College of Agriculture became the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the administrative home of the Agricultural Experiment Station. The college offers a variety of academic programs that apply science, management, design, and engineering to improve the environmental and agricultural conditions of the world. Although agriculture is no longer the main focus of the University of Maryland, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources currently maintains an enrollment of approximately one thousand undergraduate and graduate students.