Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and Hatch Projects

The Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station (VAES) was established by the Virginia General Assembly in 1886 in anticipation of the Federal Hatch Act of 1887.

The Act created a nationwide network of agricultural experiment stations as part of the land-grant higher education system. The stations were directed to conduct research and develop projects on behalf of farmers. 

Subsequent acts and appropriations established programs in forestry, animal health and disease.

Today, VAES encompasses the work of 234 tenured/tenure-track faculty, 104 special research faculty, and 247 staff members. They represent five colleges that are located at Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus, and 11 Agricultural Research and Extension Centers (AREC) across the commonwealth.

William Hatch was a Democrat whose influence in Congress was exerted through his chairmanship of the Committee on Agriculture. His reforms included the Bureau of Animal Husbandry Act of 1884; the first Oleomargarine Act of 1886, which brought federal inspection of margarine production. This Act earned him the nickname ‘Bull Butter Hatch.’ He made his greatest contribution to American agriculture with the Hatch Act of 1887. This Act gave federal support to each state and territory for agricultural experimental stations closely associated with the Morrill land-grant colleges.

A Hatch project is fundamentally a plan of work for the faculty, serving as an umbrella for all research activities of the VAES faculty.  Federal and state matching funds require every faculty member with a research appointment of 20 percent or more to develop a Hatch project, or to participate in a multistate research, McIntire-Stennis, or Animal Health and Disease research program. The Hatch program supports basic research related to the broadest aspects of agricultural problems. The program encompasses areas ranging from soil and water conservation, to food safety to biotechnology and aquaculture, to animal and crop production. An individual Hatch project allows the faculty member to focus on clearly defined research and appropriate outreach.  

The Hatch, multistate and other projects serve as an accounting link for expenditure of funds within the college and Federal Formula Fund accounts. Without an active Hatch or multistate project, faculty, student, staff and professional salaries cannot be paid. No expenses can be charged to these accounts, even if funds are available. For this reason, it is important for faculty to initiate and maintain active projects. Almost all CALS’ faculty who has research appointments is supported by Federal Formula Funds through the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station. Faculty members are required to maintain active individual projects, or participate in an approved multistate project. Faculty must abide by all reporting requirements established at the federal level. These requirements include writing a proposal, submitting annual reports to the Current Research Information System, and filing a termination report when the project is completed.

Detailed instructions for proposal preparation and filling out necessary forms and reports are available online. Faculty generally have one year to develop a Hatch project(s), which are usually active for three to five years with a possible one-year extension. Progress and termination reports referred to as AD-421’s are usually filed every fall. Faculty will be notified by its department heads when these reports are due, and will be given instructions on how to prepare these reports.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) supports research and extension activities at land-grant institutions. The support comes from federal funds that are appropriated to states on the basis of statutory, population-based formulas. Formula grants are directed to state Agricultural Experiment Stations, the Cooperative Extension System, and Cooperative Forestry Programs. In most cases, the states are required to match the federal formula dollars with nonfederal funds.  Most of the projects in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) are Hatch projects.

Today, 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. 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 Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service 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.

Most formula funding provides salary support for faculty and staff. Typically, it is not used to cover operational costs for specific projects. Faculty members are expected to seek operational dollars for their specific research projects from external sources. In fiscal 2011, about 20 percent of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences portion of state and Hatch/multistate Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station funding was allocated to cover general operating costs for conducting research. In many cases, the salaries of technical staff are covered by these funds. Limited travel funding was made available to attend annual meetings of multistate research projects.

Additional information for faculty is available at Preparing a VAES Project.

You may also contact Robin Williams at robinp@vt.edu.

Starting and Joining Multistate Projects

Multistate research projects promote interdisciplinary work, investigating problems that are too complex for a single state. These efforts stimulate the exchange of ideas and collaboration among scientists.   

Suggestions for multistate projects often originate with the interested scientists; however, directors of  various state agricultural experiment stations may establish technical committees to prepare a research project to address broadly recognized problems.

To identify an appropriate existing multistate project you can search the National Information Management Support System (NIMSS) for relevant activities. At least one of the existing project's research objectives must be relevant to your research work. To join an existing project, the faculty member needs to complete and submit an Appendix E.  Faculty who are new to Virginia Tech, but have previously participated in a multistate project, need to edit user profiles in NIMSS, and enter a new appendix E. Faculty who are interested in joining a multistate project, or who are changing affiliations, should contact Robin Williams at robinp@vt.edu. Some faculty may prefer to pursue the option of developing a new multistate project.  This is a somewhat more complicated process, and will be covered in detail in a subsequent installment of FAQ’s.

New Faculty Advice

  • Remember to look outside your department for research buddies – Virginia Tech is big on collaboration inside the college and out in the university. It'll help you learn about other research happening on campus. 
  • If you enjoy the outdoors, go camping to one of the regional state parks — there are many choices. Fishing is easy here as compared with chasing trout in the west. 
  • For regional travel rent a car from Virginia Tech fleet — they are affordable, easy, and right on campus.
  • Try to understand the culture here at Virginia Tech but don't be afraid to push for small changes.
  • Long-time staff members are great resources for both campus and community advice. They know everything about campus and the area!
  • Be patient.

Junior faculty members' experiences varied, but they all benefited from departmental support.

  • My first semester was "super busy. I had two new preps, advising grads, etc., as was expected. There are lots of 'faculty development' workshops (help with grants, computing, teaching, etc.) and several new faculty orientations. Eating on campus was great, though; I loved the D2 buffet-style cafeteria!"
  • My first semester "was fairly smooth. Everyone was very helpful. The toughest things were getting used to the annoying and bureaucratic little quirks that every institution has."
  • In my first semester, I "got lots of support from other faculty in the department, so the adjustment went smoothly."
  • My first semester was "very typical. The hard part was coping with the slow lab renovations, as I was anxious to get the lab running."

A few of our junior faculty polled had experience with the Dual Career program.

  • I was hired through the Dual Career program and it was a positive experience.
  • I dealt directly with my home department chair, not Human Resources.

Depending on their previous locations, the junior faculty faced different challenges.

  • This was not our first move so we knew what to expect. I don’t think there were any challenges that prevented my successful transition to Virginia Tech.
  • There is no Costco or WinCo (moved here from Reno, NV)! We experienced big storms during our first spring. And where are the ski slopes? (Editor's note: Most people in this region go to West Virginia for skiing in the winter.)
  • We looked online. We rented for the first two years.
  • We contacted several local realtors and rental agencies and they searched for apartments for us.
  • We used a realtor recommended by the department — it was nice to not have to search for one.
  • We worked through a realtor, which turned up nothing to fill our needs. Then we turned to Craigslist for rental properties.
  • We have only one car and my wife needs it. So I wanted to be close enough to walk or bike to campus.  If you’re looking for solitude, you can still find something within three to five miles of campus.
  • Price and proximity to campus — we ended up living in Christiansburg.
  • We decided to live in Blacksburg because wanted to be close to campus and be part of the community. We liked the house and neighborhood best. We did a house-hunting trip before moving.
  • We chose to live in Blacksburg because of the school system. The education of our child is a priority.
  • Bull & Bones — the brewmaster is a friend.
  • Sal's (Blacksburg), Due South (Christiansburg), Old Virginia Smokehouse (Pearisburg), Macados, Sake House, Palisades (Eggleston), Mekong Cafe, The Bank (Perisburg), Backstreets (Blacksburg), Cabo Fish Taco (Blacksburg), Metro (Roanoke), Blue Five (Roanoke), Annie Moore's (Roanoke). We asked around for what the best places to eat were.
  • Palisades and Gillie’s. People in the department took us there during visits for interview and house hunting trip.
  • Zeppoli's, Boudreaux, Poor Billie's, and Sharkeys. We enjoy supporting local business and shy away from chain restaurants. As a family, we like to try as many different restaurants as possible independent of recommendations.
  • Panera Bread
  • Bolo's
  • Our Daily Bread
  • Mill Mountain Coffee
  • Next Door Bakery
  • Bull 'n' Bones
  • McDonalds
  • Famous Anthony's
  • Flynn's
  • UndergroundPub

There are many different ways to keep up with what's happening in the area.

  • Colleagues, soccer team, students, kids' school, etc. Information travels fast in Blacksburg.
  • Speaking with others at Virginia Tech, church, etc.
  • Virginia Tech daily news, emails, Blacksburg website
  • Websites, friends, church

Follow CALS

Contact

Susan Duncan
Associate Director, VAES
104-C Hutcheson Hall (0402)
Blacksburg, VA 24061
540-231-3766
duncans@vt.edu

Robin Williams
104 Hutcheson Hall (0402)
Blacksburg, VA 24061
540-231-6336
calsresearch@vt.edu

New Faculty Advice

New to Virginia Tech? Not sure how to find things in the community? Junior faculty members share their advice and ideas to help you get settled quickly. New Faculty Q&A