Building and technological advances highlight the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ commitment to carrying out the land-grant mission of Virginia Tech.

A capital project and updates on several other projects were highlighted at the November Virginia Tech Board of Visitors meeting.

The new construction projects include a high tunnel installation at the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center and upgrades to the Hahn Horticulture Garden on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus.

“Investments such as the high tunnel installation, along with technology upgrades, reaffirm the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ commitment to innovative research,” said Alan Grant, dean of the college. “These endeavors include collaborative projects with industry on controlled environment agriculture and climate-smart agriculture efforts, highlighted by the Alliance to Advance Climate-Smart Agriculture.”

The high tunnel, or a hoop structure covered with plastic, would be used for growing plants. The project, in the ideation stage, is being developed in partnership with Old Dominion University. It would enhance the facility’s ability to conduct research that benefits Virginia and its associated industries.

The facility upgrades also will serve as a test bed for emerging technologies, supporting the Center for Advanced Innovation in Agriculture.

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Hahn Horticulture Garden completed a planning study outlining potential growth and expansion for the 6-acre public teaching and display garden, a popular destination on the Blacksburg campus.

Elements proposed in the study, driven by gifts, would significantly upgrade the Hahn Horticulture Garden’s amenities for holding events and vastly expand its array of gardens and sustainability features. Highlights proposed in the study include a spacious open-air marquee structure, a Japanese-style zen garden, a glass house, a formal garden, water-conserving rain gardens, and multiple spaces for teaching, learning, and relaxing.

Hahn Horticulture Garden Director Scott Douglas said the goal of the planning study was to recommend ways to elevate the garden as a regional attraction and to capitalize on its allure to host more revenue-producing events, such as weddings, conferences, and reunions.

“We’ve been so grateful to our community and volunteers who have supported the garden over the last 40 years,” Douglas said. “We look forward to involving them in the next chapter of growth to make the Hahn Garden the premier venue to visit, learn, relax, gather, and celebrate.”

The marquee is the first project slated for completion. Douglas said his hope is to break ground in January 2024, so it can be completed for the Hahn Horticulture Garden’s 40th anniversary.

To complement the marquee structure, the study proposes a caterer hut with a roof and concrete floor that would be placed between the new building and the parking area, enabling a convenient, sheltered workspace for event caterers. When not in use, the hut would offer a shaded, dry location for students and visitors.

A new “glass house” is also proposed to display a variety of tropical plants and orchids and house temperature-sensitive plants over the winter and seed-starting each spring. The glass house would function as a unique space for smaller rental events.

The study additionally proposes the introduction of a formal garden to feature clipped boxwood hedges and a variety of flowering plants to expose students and the public to a highly managed and controlled landscape style that is distinctly different from other spaces in the Hahn Garden.

Completed projects

Numerous projects have been completed across the Commonwealth of Virginia, including

  • Southwest Virginia Agricultural Research and Extension Center ram barn shed expansion
  • Sheep Barn structural repairs
  • A new turfgrass equipment shed at the Turfgrass Research Center
  • An emergency generator at the Beneficial Insects Quarantine Lab
  • Plantation Road employee housing and storage building repairs

Livestock facility updates

The Swine Center, a 24,000-square-foot facility, houses a small-scale swine production and research facility, classrooms, boar housing and gestation facilities, and rooms for farrowing, nursery, and finishing. The facility is complete. Additionally, the equine and equipment storage facilities are complete and in use.

The Beef Nutrition Physiology Research Facility and the adjacent Hay Barn, at approximately 33,000 square feet, includes a 20-stall cattle housing area for feed studies, loading chutes, a feed mixing room, laboratory space, four grain bins, four covered bulk commodity bins, and a three-sided hay shed. The Beef Nutrition and Hay Shed is complete. The Beef Nutrition and Physiology Research Facility also includes

  • Grain and commodity storage
  • Feed mixers
  • Smart feeders
  • Cattle handling

The new poultry facility buildings are complete and final equipment is currently being installed. The all-new buildings feature state-of-the-art facilities for both broilers and turkeys, improved work areas and ventilation.

Technology and connectivity

A number of technological advances to research facilities in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences were implemented this year that will support the college and the university’s commitment to smart farming and modern research and agricultural methods.

The Virginia General Assembly approved several equipment upgrades at the university’s 11 Agricultural Research and Extension Centers, which are strategically located throughout the commonwealth. These upgrades will increase connectivity and security at the research centers, including new network switches and upgrades, all well as new wireless access points.

“The technology and connectivity upgrades at our Agricultural Research and Extension Centers enable us to better serve our communities and stakeholders and enhances our ability to conduct cutting-edge research that will serve Virginia’s industries for the decades to come,” said Mary Burrows, the associate dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as well as the director of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station.

The General Assembly also allocated funding to install or upgrade audiovisual equipment at Virginia Cooperative Extension county offices. Extension educational programs are often delivered with an online component, from pesticide certification and Master Gardener classes to leadership and community meetings. Based on a survey provided to the county offices, equipment bundles were developed, and each district selected a bundle based on its individual need. These upgrades will allow Extension to better facilitate community outreach efforts via a virtual platform.

In all, technology upgrades and updates included

  • 124 upgraded offices
  • 630 network devices installed or reconfigured
  • 315 wireless access points deployed with all devices were moved from public to private internet protocol addressing to improve security and allow for future expansion
  • Significant upgrades were also made to the college’s equipment in the Andrews Information Systems Building in Blacksburg
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