Ward Laboratories in Kearney, Neb., has been around since 1983. The lab opened for business in 1984 with the philosophy of providing their clients with quality analytical information to help them make informed decisions and make money. Ray Ward and his wife, Jolene, founded the business and built it from the ground up.
“We’re an agricultural testing laboratory with the goal of helping farmers and ranchers make management decisions on their input costs,” Ray Ward said. “We want to help them be profitable in their operations. That’s our purpose. Even though we’ve expanded the kinds of things we do at the laboratory here, we’re still oriented toward agriculture all the time.”
Ray Ward knew a long time ago that he wanted to help farmers be successful. He first figured that out back in graduate school in the late 1950s.
“It didn’t make sense to me to be an agronomist or salesperson for a big company,” he recalled. “When asked what I wanted to do, I said I wanted to be able to help farmers.”
“That’s precisely what we’ve come out to be. We’re here to help farmers. I remember when I was at Oklahoma State University, I told my boss, Dr. Billy Tucker, that if I ever had the chance to run a commercial lab, I would do it just to show the commercial labs how to do it better.”
Ward got started in the business running a commercial soil-testing lab for ServiTech. After a few years, Ward said he and his wife started to wonder if they could do something like this on their own.
“We were initially looking at starting a lab in Hastings,” he said. “However, a guy I worked with at ServiTech knew someone who owned an industrial park in Kearney, which is how we settled on that location on June 15, 1983.”
They moved into their laboratory in January of 1984. In spite of starting an agricultural business during the 1980s Farm Crisis, Ward said they began building their business little by little.
“We ran 2,000 samples in a garage during the fall of 1983,” he recalled. “In 1984 and ‘85, we ran 16,000 soil samples. That was quite a jump. The number went up to 25,000 in 1986, getting up to 50,000 in 1988. We tested 412,000 samples in 2017, our largest number to date.
“It’s interesting that we initially intended to just test soil samples. However, one day a gentleman came in and asked us if we could test the nitrate in my feed. Since we ran nitrate tests in soil, we could take care of that for him. The next week, the same guy asked if we could do protein, a protein test. That led to us getting more involved in feed testing.”
While the variety of tests they do expanded over the years, Ward pointed out that it’s still “all agriculturally related.” They started the business to handle soil sampling, but over the years added feed, manure, water, and plant testing to the services they provide.
The Ward Labs clientele actually expanded in an unexpected direction because of one simple water test. A gentleman came into Ward Labs asking for a water test. Ward said the gentleman put a post on social media that basically said, “Ward Labs is the place to come for water testing and the price is right.” Because of that one post, Ward said his business has become the choice for water testing for home brewers around the world.
Within the last year, Ward Labs got five samples to test from South Korea, as well as other samples from Japan, Germany, and Denmark. Ward also received soil health samples to test all the way from South Africa.
“We actually had a client from Manitoba, Canada, and asked him how he found us,” Ward recalled. “He told us he had a friend all the way over in Italy that recommended Ward Labs do his testing.”
The business has changed, and will continue to change, as the years go by.
“When we started this business, there wasn’t a hard drive in sight,” Ward said. “The equipment has changed an awful lot since we started all those years ago.
“My favorite part of this business hasn’t changed. I really do enjoy talking with farmers and ranchers about their operations and how we can help them do things better.”
Chad Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.