In its 43rd year of business, AGVISE Laboratories of Northwood, N.D., and Benson, Minn., is looking to a fertile future under the direction of President Cindy Evenson.
President Bob Deutsch semi-retired from AGVISE earlier this year but continues to stay involved in the employee-owned testing company.
“Bob has a great soil science background, and as the years have gone by, he’s worked with all the technology, getting technology into the business, and wearing many hats within the company,” said Evenson. “He will be missed.”
Founded by the late Dr. Edward H. Lloyd, AGVISE opened as an ag consulting company and research farm in Northwood back in 1976.
The lab division of AGVISE was started during the growing season of 1977, when Deutsch was hired as a soil scientist. Their goal was to provide a high quality soil testing service, as well as plant analysis for farmers, crop consultants and businesses.
Things went well, and AGVISE moved to new offices in March 1979. That same time, John Nordgaard established a satellite AGVISE office in Benson. That office included an analytical laboratory, complete consulting services and research capabilities.
Soon, AGVISE was focusing on providing Good Laboratory Practices research for farm chemical manufacturers as well as analytical services to dealers, consultants and independent soil samplers.
In 1992, an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) was implemented and the employees became part-owners of the expanding business. Evenson began working with the company in 1992 right after she graduated from college with an agronomy degree.
“We were starting to see the beginning of the grid sampling, and that part of the industry pick up,” she said. “That’s why I was hired – to help with the increase in samples. We’ve just continued to grow.”
Just after Christmas 1996, a fire destroyed the Northwood facility. Dr. Lloyd sold his interest in the company so the ESOP owns 91 percent of the company stock today. Deutsch was appointed president by the board of directors and a new facility was built with automation and cutting-edge technology.
In 1997, Evenson became a board member and has long served in a management role as laboratory manager of the Benson facility. She is married to Kent Evenson, a farmer from Benson.
The community of Northwood experienced a major disaster in 2007 when an EF-4 category tornado destroyed many buildings including the AGVISE facilities. The board of directors and ESOP owners voted to construct a new facility, building a temporary lab within a month of the tornado. In one year, a new 40,000-square-foot office and lab facility was built under Deutsch’s direction.
The Benson facilities grew too, with remodels and additions completed in 2009 and 2012. In 2009, a 7,400-square-foot laboratory building was added to increase lab space and streamline the sample flow. The large open space allowed the addition of more equipment, which in turn increased the daily soil sample through-put. In 2012, a 5,000-square-foot addition, dedicated to sample preparation and grinding, was constructed.
Over the years, the AGVISE team has adopted changes to testing methods to make them more environmentally and user friendly.
“We used to do an SMP (Shoemaker, McLean, and Pratt) buffer (method) and it had things like potassium chromate carcinogen in it, and now the industry has changed to the Sikora buffer method,” she said. “So there aren’t any carcinogens or any hazardous waste that we need to dispose of separately.”
This test is conducted to determine how much lime is needed in the soil.
Other soil tests required strong acids and other chemicals, and the industry has found they can now use weighing and oven incineration to find soil test results.
As technology and science evolve, AGVISE has kept up and added new tests.
“We do a lot of tissue sampling, we do a lot of sampling for specialty crops – like potato growers that are tissue customers, and we also do a lot of tissue samples just for row crops as well,” she said.
Traditional soil tests are still important to the business, including the Bray phosphorus test or the Olsen phosphorus test that go back to the 1960s, she said.
Soil health/rejuvenation is a new area for testing, and AGVISE has added a permanganate-oxidizable carbon (POXC) soil test that captures the biologically active carbon fraction of the soil. They offer the Haney test, which includes the CO2 burst. AGVISE is also working on automated tests to measure soil aggregate stability.
“We do work a lot with the University on methods developed by their field research,” she said.
New tests include measuring free carbonates in the soil that deal with iron deficiency chlorosis. They’ve added a gypsum (calcium sulfate) test, as well – so customers will know if that is an issue or not with saline seeps.
“If you have a sodic soil, you’re going to apply gypsum to flush out the sodium,” she said.
Despite their locations in very rural areas of North Dakota and Minnesota, AGVISE is committed to and successful at bringing trained experts to work long-term at their facilities and across the region. The opportunity to co-own the company, plus the wide range of stimulating and ever-widening experiences draws many ag professionals to AGVISE, and that bodes well for farmers who need accurate test results.
“AGVISE has been a leader in soil testing, and we will continue to be here for customers for a long time,” Evenson said. “With the new tests and developing methods, we’ll continue to fill that need in the future.”