Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station are enlarging and diversifying the state’s economy and are making a profound economic impact in communities across the commonwealth, according to a new analysis of the agencies.

“Agency 229, which provides funding to Extension and VAES, has vast and diverse impacts that touch every sector of Virginia’s economy. Innovative, fundamental, and applied research; education and training; and direct assistance to Virginians have led to nationwide recognition of Virginia as a producer of superior agricultural products, better business management practices, and environmental stewardship that improves quality of life and attracts millions of tourists annually,” the report said.

The analysis, which was conducted by the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development, highlights a number of examples of industry impacts and community developments made possible by the people, programs, and volunteers supported by Agency 229. The report also makes a number of recommendations on how increased state investment in Agency 229 infrastructure and programs would increase its impact around the state.

“There are many examples of Agency 229’s impact throughout the commonwealth,” said John Provo, the director of the Office of Economic Development. “In addition to the numbers and analysis presented in the report, citizens provided concrete examples detailing how their lives and communities would not be the same without the outreach and research provided by Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station.”

From putting more money in the hands of cattle producers to coordinating more than 30,000 volunteers to run educational programs, the impact of Agency 229 funding touches every county and corner of the state.  The summary of report can be found online.

The Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station includes faculty members from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Natural Resources and Environment, and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Eleven Agricultural Research and Extension Centers strategically located around the state provide research and outreach in partnership with industry to propel local and state economies. Virginia Cooperative Extension has 107 offices across the state that provide research-based information to the public to help communities flourish.

Agriculture is the largest industry in Virginia and agriculture and forestry have a combined impact of more than $91 billion. Extension and VAES are integral to this success, the report said. The report includes the story of a producer in a county with $170 million in annual agricultural exports who was asked about the impact of Extension.

“I don’t know if agriculture would exist in the county without Extension. It certainly wouldn’t thrive,” he said in the report. 

The General Assembly charged Agency 229 with developing a strategy to leverage state investment with industry partnerships that “result in technological and scientific advancements needed to grow the state’s agricultural and natural resource economy.”

The Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development was commissioned to conduct a study of current impacts of VAES and Extension on the economy and to gather recommendations from industry on how funding could be leveraged to drive more innovation and advancement. The office spoke with more than 200 stakeholders from private industry, local and state government; VCE agents, specialists, volunteers, and clients; VAES researchers; and many of the agricultural councils and commodity groups that fund and benefit from Agency 229 research and Extension.

“From improving water quality to helping producers increase crop yields, the research conducted by the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station faculty is purpose-driven and focused on how to help Virginia continue to grow and prosper,” said Saied Mostaghimi, director of VAES and associated dean of research and graduate studies in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“We are able to take the research that VAES does and turn that into real and practical knowledge that helps our communities flourish and grow,” said Ed Jones, Virginia Cooperative Extension director.

The report represents a snapshot of findings with a focus on five key agriculture and forestry industries and four communities. The five industries chosen include: beef cattle; poultry and hogs in vertically integrated production systems; food and beverage manufacturing; forestry/wood products/timber; and row crops. These industries each represent a large share of the Virginia agricultural economy and are supported by Agency 229 in different ways.

Some highlights of Agency 229’s impact on industry include:

  • Placing an additional $1.5 million of revenue into the operations of Virginia feeder cattle producers. Virginia is known as the premier producer of feeder calves in the U.S.; calves certified through an Agency 229 program receive $100 more than non-certified cattle.
  • Saving hundreds of millions of dollars for the poultry industry. Existing facilities are vulnerable to disease but Agency 229 helps create disease-prevention and risk-management protocols to ensure companies do not lose hundreds of millions in revenue.
  • Developing a new food safety process for a major meat processing company, which led to a $36 million investment and 200 jobs in Southern Virginia.
  • Assisting landowners in receiving up to twice the return on investment for their forestland through sustainable management and protection of this valuable asset from invasive species and low-bid buyers.
  • Delivering research in row crops provides producers with an extra $10 million annually and has led to large-scale yield increases.

In the report, Pittsylvania County, Prince William County, Washington County, and the City of Virginia Beach were selected as representations of urban and rural populations in four Virginia regions. The report found:

  • Offices across Agency 229 coordinate more than 30,000 volunteers annually who help administer programs in environmental stewardship, youth development, family nutrition, and financial education.
  • Extension’s Family and Consumer Science outreach annually provides over 3,000 low-income youth and families with education on nutrition and cooking programs in Virginia Beach.
  • Washington County’s 4-H program, which has more than 4,000 members, teaches children leadership skills and engages them in community service projects. Improved standardized test scores have been attributed to the program.
  • In partnership with insurance companies and private industry, Pittsylvania Extension educates producers on risks, which empowers them to make decisions and protect their livelihoods.
  • Homeowner education programs in Prince William County saved 130 homeowners from foreclosure in 2016 alone.