On March 1, 1886, the Virginia General Assembly passed an act authorizing establishment of a Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station at Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Virginia Tech), but it was not until after passage of the federal Hatch Act of March 2, 1887, and acceptance by the state of the provisions of the act on February 29, 1888, that the station was actually established. The Hatch Act originally provided $15,000 a year from the sale of public lands to every state that had a land-grant college for the establishment of an agricultural experiment station "to aid in the acquiring and diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects connected with agriculture and to promote scientific investigation and experiments respecting the principles and applications of agricultural science.” Later acts—e.g., the Adams Act of 1906, the Purnell Act of 1925, and the Bankhead-Jones Act of 1935—increased federal appropriations to the VAES.
The VAES was originally organized into three departments: agriculture, botany and entomology, and chemistry. During its first year of operations, the station published six bulletins on such varied topics as fertilizers for wheat, steer feeding, meteorology, and variety tests of potatoes and tomatoes. Federal appropriations entirely supported the station from 1888 to 1906; after that, it received both federal and state appropriations, as well as research grants from commercial firms.
Today, VAES reports to the dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, which participates in VAES research projects and activities along with four other colleges: Natural Resources, Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Science, and Veterinary Medicine. The station’s research network now includes 13 field research stations, known as Agricultural Research and Extension Centers (ARECs, see below), and approximately 320 scientists from the five colleges work on VAES research projects and activities.
Directors of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station: Wiliam B. Preston (1888‑90); L. L. Lomax (acting, 1890‑ 90—one month); William D. Saunders (1890‑1891); J. M. McBryde (1891‑1904); Andrew M. Soule (1904‑07); Walter J. Quick and John Spencer (acting, 1907-1908); S. W. Fletcher (1908‑14); W. J. Schoene (acting, 1914‑16); Alfred W. Drinkard Jr. (1916‑46); H. N. Young (1946‑65); Coyt T. Wilson (1965‑78); James R. Nichols (1978-91); Andy Swiger (1992-94); Robert Q. Cannell (1994-99); Kriton Hatzios (1999-2003); Gerald L. Jubb Jr. (associate director serving in acting director capacity, 2003-04); Craig L. Nessler (2004-09); Saied Mostaghimi (2009- ).