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In 1862, the U.S. Congress' first Morrill Act, championed by Rep. Justin Morrill of Vermont, 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 and use the income to establish “….at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts . . . in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life”. The Morrill Act was intended to provide a broad segment of the population with a practical education that had direct relevance to their daily lives. Today 62 1862 land-grant universities exist 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 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. 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 in order to receive the federal monies.

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. Today 25 percent of the annual Hatch appropriation from Congress is earmarked as Multistate Research Funds in order to promote collaboration among various states to address regional and national issues. In 1962, the McIntire-Stennis Act was enacted to promote forestry research and graduate education. Animal Health and Disease research is a separate line item in the CSREES budget and must be approved by Congress each year. 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.