The Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center is dedicated to tobacco, small fruits, forages, and other field and specialty crops research and educational programs to address the needs of the agricultural industry so it will continue to be a viable component of the state's economy.

Vision Statement

The vision of the faculty and staff of the Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center is one of service to the university, the agricultural industry and the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia through high quality research and Extension programs to attain the following goals:

  1. Conduct strong commodity-oriented research and Extension programs to provide needed information and technology to the agricultural economy of the Southern Piedmont region of the state.
  2. Educate and train graduate students at both the M.S. and Ph.D. levels in agronomy, plant genetics, plant pathology, and entomology.
  3. Support and cooperate with other departments, centers, and colleges at Virginia Tech and other universities to serve needs of agriculture in the state and nation.
  4. Maintain professional competence through active participation in appropriate professional societies and by active association with relevant academic departments on the main campus.
  5. Promote all educational programs at the university by active participation as appropriate.

History of the AREC

The need for agricultural research in the Southern Piedmont region of Virginia was first recognized in a significant manner by the General Assembly in 1906 when an appropriation of $2,500 was made from the General Fund to finance research at the regions first off-campus field stations, one at Appomattox and the other at Chatham. The necessity of field stations operated as a complement to the work on the main campus in Blacksburg was recognized more than 90 years ago, and is of no less importance today.

Prior to 1974, three separate research sites were maintained in the region (two experiment stations at Chatham, and one experiment station at Charlotte Court House). These stations were located on relatively small areas of land and were staffed with one or two professionals with inadequate technical assistance, facilities, and equipment. Virginia Tech decided to consolidate programs, facilities, and personnel at a central location with adequate land area to conduct the needed research. It was further decided that in addition to tobacco research at the new location, the program should include all those agricultural enterprises, including livestock, that are important in Southside Virginia; and that facilities be included for conducting short courses, seminars, workshops, and graduate instruction.

The Virginia General Assembly appropriated approximately $800,000 in 1972 to establish the center in the Blackstone area. These funds were sufficient to construct office facilities, tobacco curing and handling facilities, and other necessary field service buildings. A site - containing 1,130 acres - was selected at Fort Pickett in Nottoway County. This location was one of 10 possible sites that had been studied in detail. A 25-year lease made between the Department of the Army and Virginia Tech for the construction, use, operation, and maintenance of a multi-purpose agricultural research and educational center was signed June 30, 1972. Approximately 125 acres of land were initially cleared for field research, and a six-acre irrigation pond and an irrigation system were installed. The 1982 Virginia General Assembly appropriated $450,000 for an addition to the office/laboratory building plus new greenhouse/head house facilities; these structures were completed in 1983.

An experimental pond facility was established at SPAREC in 1987 at a cost of $192,016. The facility consists of 12 square 0.1 acre ponds and a 2.5 acre supply reservoir. All experimental ponds are constructed identically with 2.5 to 1 sloping sides and 7 foot depth (dimensions: 66' x 66' x 7'). Each pond has a volume of 128,510 gallons of water.

Virginia Tech acquired about 1,182 acres on September 3, 2002 through a public benefit conveyance from the U.S. Department of Education. This occurred because Fort Pickett was released from Army inventory in 1997. A total of 41,206 acres was turned over to the Virginia National Guard as a training facility. Approximately 3,829 acres, including the 1,182 acres occupied by SPAREC, were declared excess.

The area for field crop and high value specialty crop research is being expanded. Timber was harvested from 115 acres of forested land in 2004. About 70 acres were cleared with a Tigercat M724D mulcher and subsequently disced, limed, fertilized, and sown with a cover crop of fescue, clover, and lespedeza. A 1.5 acre pond was constructed in 2005. The first field plots were sown in 2008.

An area for forage-livestock research is being developed. Timber was harvested from about 170 acres of forested land in 2005. About half of the acreage was cleared with a Tigercat M724D mulcher and the remaining acreage was cleared by grubbing. Lime, fertilizer, and biosolids were applied in 2007. A cover crop of rye and tall fescue was sown and a fixed knot high tensile perimeter fence has been installed.