Reliable data on private sector agricultural research and development is globally scarce, particularly in developing countries. In South Africa, it has been observed that research performance by the public sector via the Agricultural Research Council has declined in recent years and consequently, the private sector has embarked on a much larger role in South Africa’s agriculture research than before. However, the extent of this engagement remains unknown as data quantifying private sector agricultural R&D is limited. This study identified 51 private firms that perform agriculture related research activities and attempts to gather primary data to determine the nature and extent of private R&D in South Africa. However due to the large number of non-responses, the study covers only 19% of these firms. Nevertheless, the study found that the participation of the private sector in agriculture research in the past decade has increased; in terms of research expenditure by more than 100% and number of research personnel by more than 50%. It emerged that the nature of research done by the private sector locally is mainly adaptive research - focused on testing imported technology to ensure registration and certification for use on the local market as opposed to developing ‘own’ innovations. The most influencing government policy initiatives in the participation of the private sector in South Africa’s agriculture R&D have been deregulation of agriculture markets and liberalization of agricultural trade, which have increased the spill-in of agriculture technologies to South Africa. The study recommends that, in order to ensure sustainability and efficiency of private sector research, collaboration between the public sector and private sector as well as international organizations will be crucial.