In 1862, the U.S. Congress first Morrill Act, championed by Rep. Justin Morrill of Vermont, and signed by Abraham Lincoln, granted each state 30,000 acres of federal land for every senator and representative. Each state was to sell the land and invest the proceeds in an endowment using the income to establish a land-grant college. “The mission of these institutions as set forth in the 1862 act is to focus on the teaching of practical agriculture, science, military science, and engineering—although "without excluding other scientific and classical studies"—as a response to the industrial revolution and changing social class.” Today, there are over 60 land-grant universities across the United States.
A key component of the land-grant system is the agricultural experiment station program created by the Hatch Act of 1887. The 1887 Hatch Act, sponsored by Rep. William Henry Hatch of Missouri, created experiment stations to “… conduct original and other researches, investigations, and experiments bearing directly on and contributing to the establishment and maintenance of a permanent and effective agricultural industry of the United States, including researches basic to the problems of agriculture in its broadest aspects, and such investigations as have for their purpose the development and improvement of the rural home and rural life and the maximum contribution by agriculture to the welfare of the consumer.”
The Hatch Act authorized the direct payment of federal grant funds to each state to establish an agricultural experiment station in connection with the state's land-grant institution. The amount of this appropriation varies from year to year and is determined for each state through a formula based on the number of small farms. A major portion of the federal funds must be matched by the state. The State Agricultural Experiment Stations (SAES) were charged with conducting research and development projects on behalf of farmers. Subsequent acts, including the Adams Act of 1906, the Purnell Act of 1925, and the Bankhead-Jones Act of 1935, increased federal appropriations to SAES. In 1946, the act authorizing the Regional Research Fund was signed.
Subsequent acts and appropriations established programs in Multi-state, forestry, and animal health and disease research. This research is a separate line item in the budget and must be approved by Congress annually.
- Today, approximately 25 percent of the annual Hatch appropriation from Congress is earmarked as Multistate Research Funds to promote collaboration among various states to address regional and national issues.
- The McIntire-Stennis Act of 1962 promotes forestry research and graduate education at land-grant universities. The College of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences conducts McIntire Stennis research projects at Virginia Tech. This formula-funded research represents a continuing commitment by the USDA to partner with the state in support of mission-driven research for Virginia’s Agricultural and Forest Industries.
- The Animal Health and Disease Research (AHDR), (Section 1433) supports research projects addressing health and disease of agricultural animals. The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine conducts AHDR research at Virginia Tech.
To disseminate information gleaned from the experiment stations' research, the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created a Cooperative Extension Service associated with each U.S. land-grant institution. This act authorized ongoing federal support for extension services, using a formula similar to the Hatch Act's, to determine the amount of the appropriation. This act also requires that the states provide matching funds to receive federal monies.
Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station
The Virginia General Assembly established the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station (VAES) on March 1, 1886, at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, VA, in anticipation of the Federal Hatch Act of 1887.
The mission of VAES is to perform basic and applied research on agricultural, environmental, natural, and community resource issues related to the future needs of Virginia, the region, the nation, and the world.
VAES supports research programs in a wide range of disciplines in projects located at Virginia Tech and across the Commonwealth, in cooperation with Virginia Cooperative Extension, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Education, and Extension Service, and other state and federal agencies.
VAES maintains research laboratories on campus, agricultural facilities on and around the campus, and a network of 11 field research centers located at various sites throughout the state. These centers, known as Agricultural Research and Extension Centers (ARECs), enable agricultural innovations to be tested in real-world applications across the state and provide learning opportunities for local farms and Extension Agents from Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE). VAES performs research and outreach in areas ranging from livestock management to ornamentals, field crops, wine production, seafood safety, biofuels, and human health.
VAES serves the needs of Virginia's animal, plant, and seafood industries and fosters the conservation of natural resources. This effort benefits consumers and all state citizens in rural, urban, and suburban communities. The research design provides knowledge that will enhance the quality of individual and family life. It also encourages social and economic vigor in Virginia. Researchers use some of the best qualitative and quantitative analysis techniques to address today’s most pressing agricultural and environmental issues. Our robust research program has led to significant improvements in food quality and availability across the state and has been a key component of economic development and citizen wealth.
More powerfully, the partnership between VAES and VCE creates a highly effective means for communicating and teaching new techniques with lasting impact in local communities. Discoveries resulting from VAES-supported research have facilitated economic development in the state and the form of start-up companies in Southwest Virginia.
The VAES is also responsible for innovations of preferred seed varieties of soybeans, wheat, and barley, new tobacco production efficiencies, disease detection improvement for peanuts and other crops, new information on beef production, new wine production information, and many other impactful agricultural advances. These innovations have helped grow various segments of agriculture, the number one industry in Virginia.