To celebrate National Virginia Day on Sept. 14, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is highlighting the innovative NIFA-funded research conducted by the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station.
In the following interview with Susan Duncan, associate director of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and director of the Center for Advanced Innovation in Agriculture, learn more about the state’s history and the agriculture challenges Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station researchers are working to combat.
Please provide some historical background on the founding of your agricultural experiment station.
The Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station was created in 1886 by action of the Virginia General Assembly in advance of the federal Hatch Act. The station has a central hub on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, and networked throughout the state at 11 Agricultural Research and Extension Centers. Each center serves as a smart farm testbed with relevance to agricultural commodities and advancements within the region. Virginia has a tradition of leadership and innovation in agricultural technology.
What are some of your agricultural experiments station’s most notable successes and innovations?
The Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station leads advances in fundamental and translational research that drives successful agricultural diversity, thus supporting Virginia’s national top 10 ranking in many commodities and products. Virginia ranks 10th in tomato production in the United States. Improved varieties and quality evaluation of the Virginia peanut, in tandem with advanced technologies for managing invasive weeds and diseases, support the national eighth-place ranking in peanut production. Commercial poultry broilers were developed based on the station’s research on growth selection. The small grain breeding team has released 107 wheat and barley varieties since 1990. In addition to production agriculture, the station promotes research for drug discovery, food safety and security, wellness and health, and community leadership.
How does the NIFA-funded research conducted by your institution serve the citizens of your state?
Precision technologies in tandem with artificial intelligence, data analytics and cyber biosecurity are changing the face and future of agriculture, food security, health and wellness, and communities. The Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are developing leaders and creating and sharing knowledge through diverse, hands-on applications that help communities thrive. Impactful research advancements help build the agricultural and food system, develop talent for all aspects of the workforce, and grow the economic influence on Virginia and beyond.
What are some of the unique agricultural challenges of your state that you are working to address?
Virginia is the twelfth most populous state in the nation, with extreme differences in accessibility to nearly every measure of security: employment, food, affordable housing, healthcare, internet connectivity, education and more. From the Eastern Shore of Virginia, across the Chesapeake Bay, through the Shenandoah Valley, and onward to the Appalachian Mountains, Virginia has a vast diversity of distinct soils, weather, water and communities. Climate change is causing extreme variabilities, affecting coastal communities, altering growing seasons, introducing new diseases and pests, and modifying animal and human behavior. No single answer or technology works for all regions, requiring transdisciplinary teams with depth of knowledge and a breadth of disciplines to address the needs of the various stakeholders.
Going forward, how do you see your NIFA-funded research addressing your state’s most pressing issues?
Developing teams of researchers and Extension specialists helps address the unique and diverse challenges in Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region. The Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and Virginia Tech have supported the development of several transdisciplinary research centers that create networks of expertise and synergistic engagement to address the many issues within Virginia and beyond.
Top photo: United States of America lights during night as it looks like from space. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.