Date of Award

Winter 2019

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Todd A. DeMitchell

Second Advisor

Andrew Smtih

Third Advisor

Gavin Henning


This study investigates the dynamic relationship of the purpose and value of state agricultural experiment stations today as perceived by a sample of the directors of state agricultural experiment station in the United States funded by the Hatch Act of 1887. State agricultural experiment stations are a fundamental component of the land-grant university system; they are the original model and the first centers for applied research at most flagship state land-grant research universities in the United States (Kerr, 1987; Knoblauch, 1962). The purpose of state agricultural experiment stations has evolved since their inception as new agricultural issues have arisen, new technology has been developed, new discoveries have been made, and as the concept of agricultural science and research has expanded in scope and direction (True, 1937; Knoblauch, 1962; Kerr, 1987; Ferleger, 1990; Marcus, 2015; Buchanan, 2016). In addition, over the years the value of these research organizations to a diverse set of stakeholders has ebbed and flowed depending on shifts in political, economic, and public values and perceptions about publicly funded scientific research (True, 1937; Knoblauch, 1962; Kerr, 1987; Ferleger, 1990; Marcus, 2015; Buchanan, 2016).

This study adds to the literature on agricultural experiment stations. A comprehensive search of peer-reviewed journal articles did not find a perception study that assesses the overarching purpose and value of state agricultural experiment stations by surveying the directors of these stations. This study also is significant because it comes at a time when public investment in agricultural research and development is at an all-time low while private investments in agricultural research have soared (ERS, 2019), despite the clear and convincing evidence that there are substantial technological, economic, and social returns on public investments in agricultural research such as that conducted at state agricultural experiment stations. Knowledge about the role of these stations is important in informing the public about the investment in this public good.

This study found that, overall, the current directors of state agricultural experiment stations remain committed to the original mandate as outlined by the Hatch Act—to conduct public agricultural research for the common good to benefit the citizens of their states. Directors perceive the purposes of their experiment stations as primarily focused on serving statewide farming and agricultural interests, citizens of their state, and the common good. These statewide purposes include improving the economic bottom line for farmers, supporting the state’s agricultural economy broadly, and educating the public about agricultural issues. They also strongly support national purposes drawn from broader goals outlined by USDA-NIFA that focus more on the specifics of farming–food and the environment for sustaining food production. These include enhancing the food supply, improving nutrition and well-being of American citizens, and sustaining natural resources and environment.

They also perceive that their state’s farmers, growers, and producers, and their state agricultural commissioner value their experiment stations the most. Of the stakeholder groups considered, these stakeholders are most directly connected to experiment stations and most invested in their applied research and impact on agriculture in the state. Their state’s congressional delegation, NIFA-USDA leadership, and their institution’s president also are viewed as strong supporters who value the work of their experiment stations. These three groups also have direct connections to the stations, as they are involved in securing federal and state funding for experiment stations. When asked how they could improve stakeholder value, the majority of directors endorsed better strategic communications. This is a key element of being successful in the agenda-setting process, which informs this research.