Virginia Tech’s most recent ranking of federally funded research and development expenditures in agricultural science programs rose to fifth in the nation, securing the university and its research faculty as globally recognized leaders addressing grand challenges facing society.

Overall the university’s expenditures in agricultural sciences rose to over $103 million in 2014, an increase of more than 15 percent over the last five years. The federally financed research dollars rose to more than $36 million.

Research expenditures in agriculture help Virginia Tech tackle important state, national, and global issues. They ensure sustainable and innovative agriculture, nutritious and safe food, strong families and communities, and environmentally sound use of natural resources.

The National Science Foundation defines agricultural sciences to include agricultural production, aquaculture, international agriculture, soil sciences, natural resources and conservation, landscape architecture, agricultural chemistry, agronomy, animal science, fish and wildlife, forestry, and horticulture.

Multiple programs and colleges contribute to agricultural sciences research and development expenditures, including the colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Natural Resources and Environment, among others.

“The increase in ranking is not only an endorsement of the broad range and high level of research lead by our faculty, but also the research programs’ direct benefit to society,” said Saied Mostaghimi, associate dean of research in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station.

Research expenditures at Virginia Tech rose to $513 million in 2014, continuing an upward trend of annual growth going back more than a dozen years. Virginia Tech was ranked No. 39 in the NSF's annual survey of higher education research expenditures in 2014.

Virginia Tech continues to rank in the top 5 percent of universities in the nation and is the only Virginia institution in the top 50. It remains among the top 25 public research universities.

Among the many researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who contributed to the rise in the rankings are Richard Veilleux, Julian and Margaret Gary professor of horticulture, who has completed groundbreaking research with mapping the potato genome, the world’s third largest crop.

In the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, Professor Mike Zhang is working on a vaccine that could help smokers conquer their nicotine addiction, making many smoking-related diseases and deaths relics of the 21st century.

Another faculty member, Bin Xu, an assistant professor of biochemistry, is examining the effect of a newly discovered hormone and its anti-inflammatory effects on the body.

Projects in the College of Natural Resources and Environment range from managing forests in the face of climate change to balancing human health and environmental sustainability.

Tom Fox, the Garland Gray professor of forestry, focuses on creating the knowledge needed to sustainably manage southern pine plantations so that they are better adapted to droughts, temperature extremes, and other variations in climate.

Kathleen Alexander, an associate professor of wildlife, examines the manner in which diseases are transmitted at the human-animal-environmental interface, including efforts to understand and combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Nearly 80 percent of Virginia Tech’s research portfolio is funded by competitive awards from the federal government and funding agencies such as the NSF, and the departments of defense, health and human services, transportation, agriculture, and energy. About 10 percent of funding is from commercial sources and industry partnerships.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

Written by Amy Loeffler

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