AGVISE Laboratories is an employee owned agricultural soil testing laboratory that serves clients in the upper Great Plains and Canada. Dr. Edward H. Lloyd, a former plant pathologist with the North Dakota Extension Service, founded AGVISE as an agricultural consulting company and research farm. AGVISE opened for business in Northwood, ND on April 12, 1976. Services offered in the beginning were crop consulting programs for growers and a research farm for evaluating agricultural products. AGVISE was located originally at 212 S. Main in the current Valley Oil building. During the first year of operation, AGVISE only had two full-time employees, Dr. Ed Lloyd and John T. Nordgaard.
The laboratory division of AGVISE was started in April of 1977 when Robert Deutsch was hired as a Soil Scientist. This division was started to provide fertilizer dealers, consultants and independent samplers with better soil testing services than were available from other laboratories in the region. The laboratory also offered plant analysis services during the first year of operation.
In March 1979, AGVISE moved its offices to a new 5500 square foot building on Highway 15 on the north edge of Northwood. Multiple building additions were added over the years to handle the ever-increasing volume of samples tested. As the company grew, services offered by AGVISE expanded to include an analytical laboratory to test pesticides in soil along with testing for microbes, water and seeds.
A second AGVISE office was established in Benson, Minnesota, in 1979 with John Nordgaard as vice president. This office also included an analytical laboratory, complete consulting service and research capabilities.
In 1988 AGVISE discontinued the consulting service and stopped soil sampling directly for farmers, but continued sampling for dealers on a contract basis. Instead, AGVISE chose to concentrate on providing analytical services to dealers, consultants, and independent soil samplers. The Field Contract Research Division was expanded to include Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) research for farm chemical manufacturers.
In order to stop competing with our customers who were fertilizer dealers and crop consultants, AGVISE stopped custom soil sampling for dealers in 1989. The laboratories at Benson and Northwood continued to expand through the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s. In 1992 the company name was change to AGVISE Laboratories to better reflect the focus of the business. In this same year an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) was implemented. This plan allowed employees to become part-owners of the ever-growing business. In 1994 the corporate offices moved to downtown Northwood to allow for additional laboratory space at Northwood facility.
On December 29, 1996 a devastating fire destroyed the Northwood facility. Following the fire, Dr. Lloyd sold his interest in the company to the ESOP. Today the ESOP owns 91% of the company stock. Dr. Lloyd’s family did retain ownership of the contract research farm division. Today, this company is known as AGVISE Research. Construction was started immediately on a new laboratory and office complex on the original site along highway 15 to replace the complex lost to fire. The new facility was completed by August 1, 1997 just in time for the fall soil-testing season.
Following the fire, AGVISE continued to see growth in the volume of soil samples received on an annual basis. In order to handle this increase in volume, AGVISE had to turn to robotics to allow technicians to test more samples. Another driving force behind the automation was the limited seasonal labor force available in the two small towns where the laboratories are located. Rather than relocate to a larger community, AGVISE chose automation. By 2007, AGVISE had automated 100% of the routine analysis on a typical soil sample.
As a thank you to the Northwood community for their support after the fire, AGVISE constructed a building to house the local grocery store. The previous building that housed the grocery store had deteriorated to the point where it was beyond repair. The Guenthner family rented the building from AGVISE and operated the grocery store.
On August 27, 2007, AGVISE suffered a second disaster. A tornado in the EF-4 category struck the city of Northwood. The two buildings that housed the laboratory, two storage buildings and the grocery store were all destroyed. All of the AGVISE buildings in Northwood were destroyed in a matter of minutes.
The board of directors, with the support of the ESOP owners, voted within days of the tornado to construct a new facility. Within a month of the disaster AGVISE had constructed a 100 by 50 foot temporary laboratory on the foundation of one of the destroyed storage buildings. Limited soil testing started in this temporary laboratory facility on September 30th. The AGVISE business offices were temporarily located in the Alerus bank building. Samples destined for the Northwood lab were trucked to the Benson Laboratory on a daily basis. Meanwhile construction started on a new 40,000 sq foot office and laboratory building. By May 1, the business office staff moved from the Alerus building to the new building. By August 1, the laboratory was in full operation in the new facility, again just in time for the fall soil test season.
Over the years, the Benson offices have also had their share of growth. The most recent additions to the Benson facility were in 2009 and 2012. In 2009, a 7400 square foot laboratory building was added to increase lab space and streamline the sample flow. This large open space allowed the addition of more equipment, which in turn increased the daily soil sample through-put by over 200% from 2007. In 2012, a 5000 square foot addition dedicated solely to sample preparation and grinding was constructed. The addition doubled grinding space and added a large dust collection system to increase employee comfort and efficiency. This addition also allowed AGVISE to increase the drying space by 75%. The Benson lab now has the capability to dry 1.5 days’ worth of samples.
As you can see, AGVISE has overcome many issues and continued to grow over the years. We have enjoyed serving our customers for the last 40 years, and we look forward to the next 40 years to come!