An agricultural experiment station (AES) or agricultural research station (ARS) is a scientific research center that investigates difficulties and potential improvements to food production and agribusiness. Experiment station scientists work with farmers, ranchers, suppliers, processors, and others involved in food production and agriculture.
Station scientists study biological, economic, and social problems of food and agriculture and related industries in each state. They investigate such areas as crop variations, soil testing, livestock, processing and animal technology, and other advanced technology in food and agriculture. They also work with specialists called extension agents. These specialists help inform farmers about developments in agriculture. Most agricultural experiment station scientists are faculty members of the land-grant universities.
In Canada, about 50 per cent (1988) of the experiment stations are controlled by the Canadian government. The Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa is the headquarters of the federal system. Private industries, universities, and agricultural colleges control the remainder of the stations. Each province has a number of provincial stations. The University of Saskatchewan has extensive agricultural experimental land.
Japan has five agricultural experiment stations of Independent Administrative Institution of National Agriculture and Food Research Organization, former national stations, and many other prefectural stations all over the country.
Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research in Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire, is a leading UK agricultural experiment station owned by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and operated by its Potato Council division, it engages in a wide range of research disciplines impacting upon crop storage for the British potato industry, including confidential contract research and development.
The Hatch Act of 1887 authorized the establishment of agricultural experiment stations, to be affiliated with the land grant college of agriculture, in each state (7 U.S.C. 361a et seq.). The mission of the agricultural experiment stations as set out in the Hatch Act is to conduct original research, investigation, and experiments which contributing to the establishment and maintenance of the agricultural industry in the United States. Including research pertaining to agriculture in its broadest sense as well as improvement of the rural home and rural life, and the contribution by agriculture to the welfare of the consumer. Research done at these stations underpins the curriculum of the colleges, as well as the programs of the Cooperative Extension System.The United States of America has more than 600 main experiment stations and branch stations, run by about 13,000 scientists. In some states, agricultural experiment stations are integrated into the agriculture colleges of Land Grant Universities; while in others they are administratively unique institutions. The structure of the agricultural experiment stations varies state-to-state in order to meet the unique needs of each state. Factors such as size of the land grant university, and size and type of agriculture in a state will affect the organization and research conducted by the station.
The United States Department of Agriculture also maintains over 90 research locations, including locations abroad. The research stations of the USDA are divided into 5 geographic areas across the United States, each with a centrally located station. Including: Pacific West at Albany, CA, Plains Area at Ft. Collins, CO, Southeast Area at Stoneville, MS, Midwest Area at Peoria, IL, and Northeast Area at Beltsville, MD. Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, is the largest of USDA's research locations at 6,500 acres and contains the National Agricultural Library.
The U.S. experiment stations are state institutions. However, the federal and state governments cooperate in funding the research done at the stations. The states provide about 60 percent (1988) of the government money. Additional income comes from grants, contracts, and the sale of products. The stations receive a total income of more than $1 billion a year.
The University of the Virgin Islands maintains an experiment station  on the island of St. Croix, working on agroforestry, aquaponics, biotechnology, forage agronomy, and tilapia farming, among other areas of research.
In 1786, Comte d'Angiviller, acting for Louis XVI of France, acquired 366 merino sheep from Spain and began an experimental program of adapting the species to France at the farm attached to Château de Rambouillet. As a result, there is the branch of merinos called Rambouillet sheep.
A precursor to the agricultural experiment station was the botanical garden. For example, Christian Gottfried Daniel Nees von Esenbeck founded the Botanische Gärten der Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn in 1818. With need for animal nutrition, scientists such as Karl Heinrich Ritthausen turned to biochemistry to investigate the comparative nutrition from grains and pulses.
Following the footsteps of the Enlightenment rationalism and experimentalism, Germany began to see the rise of agricultural experiment stations, indicating the beginnings of an attempt to merge traditional agronomy with analytical chemistry. In 1840, Justus von Liebig, an influential German chemist and professor at the University of Giessen, published his book Organic Chemistry in its Application to Agriculture and Physiology. Liebig theorized that nitrogen and trace minerals from soil erosion were essential to plant nutrition, and, from this analytical chemistry perspective, simplified agriculture to a series of chemical reactions. While Liebig's work inspired a generation of analytical agricultural chemists interested in fundamental questions of plant nutrition, founders of early German agricultural experiment stations did not solely seek to pursue questions of soil chemistry, but rather sought to bridge the gap between the two fields of agriculture and chemistry.
The most well-known and earliest German experimental station, or Landwirtschaftliche Versuchsstationen, established was the Mockern Experiment Station, located near the city of Leipzig. Created on September 28, 1850, the Mockern project was spearheaded by three Saxon men: Julius Adolph Stöckhardt, a professor of agricultural chemistry; Wilhelm Crusius, German estate owner interested in scientific agriculture; and Theodor Reuning, the German agricultural minister at the time. Though all three men took interest in Liebig's scientific approach to soil chemistry, they maintained distinct agricultural and economic focus at Mockern, and rejected a purely laboratory approach to agriculture. Unlike Liebig, Stockhardt sought the integration of chemistry with agriculturists, rather than a specialization of chemists to come in and do the work. As a landowner who employed chemists, Crusius saw the value of chemical agriculture in economic terms to increase profit, while Reuning's support for Mockern Station represented the beginnings of governmental interest and funding of agricultural experimental stations.
Under Crusius, the Mockern Station submitted a Letter of Purpose in a government application. It specified that the Mockern Station belonging to the Leipzig Economic Society would devote itself to the advancement of agriculture via scientific investigation, through cooperation between practical farmers and scientific professionals. They listed six main research objectives, summarized below:
And, 1899 act for prefectural agricultural experiment stations supported prefectural movement to establish agricultural experiment stations all over Japan.
John Bennet Lawes, with the help of Joseph Henry Gilbert, established one of the oldest agricultural experiment stations in the world: Rothamsted Experimental Station, located at Harpenden in Hertfordshire, England, was founded in 1843. This establishment was where Ronald Fisher was inspired to important advances in the theory of statistical inference and genetics.
The movement to establish agricultural experiment stations in the USA can be credited to Samuel William Johnson who taught the first course in biochemistry. The development was recounted by William Cumming Rose:
The Bussey Institution at Harvard University (since 1871) and the Houghton Farm at Cornwall, New York (1876-88), were privately endowed stations. By 1887 fourteen states had definite organizations and in thirteen others the colleges conducted equivalent work.
Federal aid for state experiment stations began with the Hatch Act of 1887. The Hatch Act authorized direct payment of federal grant funds to each state to establish an agricultural experiment station "under direction of" its land-grant college. Land-grant colleges had been established under the Morrill Act of 1862. The aid was increased by the Adams Act (1906) and the Purnell Act (1925). The provisions of the original Hatch Act and of later legislation providing increasing funds were combined in the Hatch Act of 1955.
The McIntire-Stennis Act of 1962 authorized forestry research studies at experiment stations.