NORTHWOOD, N.D. — Many jobs that require a four-year degree also require a job in an urban area, which can be a tough choice for those who grew up in rural communities and crave the closeness and warmness of a small town.
That makes the jobs Agvise Laboratories and Agvise Research offer in Northwood, N.D., and Benson, Minn., particularly important.
“This is a place that gives people the opportunity to live and work in a rural place while being able to use those skills that they got at a four-year university. There's not that many opportunities like that in rural areas,” said Jodie Boe, an Agvise Laboratories agronomist.
Through a devastating fire and a tornado, Agvise has remained loyal to its small towns for four decades, keeping locations in rural North Dakota and Minnesota where the company's agronomic testing and support and related research can benefit the farmers of the region.
Where it all began
In 1976, Edward Lloyd left his job at North Dakota State University, and moved his family to Northwood in eastern North Dakota.
“He had an excellent job at NDSU for eight years, but he felt the future was going to be in consulting crops for farmers, and that was his dream,” Susan Lloyd, Edward Lloyd’s wife, said. “My husband was always in deep thought. He researched it, he thought about it and then he acted. I think he was quite a visionary for the future.”
In 1977, Edward Lloyd followed that dream and created Agvise Laboratories. Agvise Laboratories offers in-depth testing services for farmers, crop consultants, agronomy retailers and more. Lloyd’s new business saw so much success in its infancy that a second location was opened in 1978 in Benson, in west-central Minnesota, where it remains today.
“We here at Agvise Laboratories are experts at agriculture analysis. We provide full services for agricultural analysis and that includes soil, plant, manure, water and fertilizer,” Boe said.
While the business has come a long way, Susan Lloyd can’t help but laugh at its humble beginning.
"With the old research farm, we just started with one tractor and many shovels and two yellow Jeeps that had probes for soil sampling. That’s how we began,” Susan Lloyd said.
She remembers walking all the crops to check for disease, a cumbersome task, as she puts it.
But from that humble beginning, Agvise grew.
Agvise Laboratories' was restructured as a company in 1994 to an employee stock ownership plan.
“The employees were able to have stock in the company, because we had such dedicated employees and the business was really growing,” Susan Lloyd said.
On Dec. 26, 1996, a solenoid within a computer started a fire within the Northwood location of Agvise Laboratories. It destroyed everything.
“We just stood there and watched it go. All the research. All of it,” Susan Lloyd said.
Though disaster struck, Agvise Laboratories continued to plant its roots firmly in Northwood.
“We decided we were going to rebuild, because we wanted to stay in Northwood. This is where great people come from and there has been community support from the get go of the business that we do here,” Boe said.
In 1997, the lab was rebuilt. But just 10 years later, Mother Nature came knocking on Agvise Laboratories’ door.
“Unfortunately 10 years down the road after the fire, we were actually hit by an EF4 tornado in the summer of 2007,” Boe said.
Once again, Agvise Laboratories was rebuilt and continued to stay put in Northwood. While Boe said there was talk about moving the laboratory to a more populated area, like Grand Forks, N.D., Agvise wanted to stay in their rural community because of its dedicated workforce.
A new venture
Because of the disaster and the loss from the fire, Edward and Susan Lloyd decided to sell their shares of the company to the employees in 1996 and start on a new venture: Agvise Research.
“Our primary duties are to conduct research trials for registration for residue,” Edward Lloyd Jr said. “My job is to conduct trials for various seed and chemical companies.”
Edward Lloyd Jr. is one of Edward and Susan Lloyd’s sons. He works as a field investigator for Agvise Research.
Agvise Research does an array of trials such as fertility trials, trait development trials and many more. Agvise Research's locations makes it a prime location for a multitude of crops.
“We’re very diverse. We’ve grown anything from the typical wheat, soybean and corn here to onions, carrots, tomatoes and eggplants. We have really done most everything,” Edward Lloyd Jr., said. “I love the fact that we can do a variety of things; it’s definitely the spice of life. Or at least the spice of work. I would probably get bored doing the same thing with two different crops."
With business booming, both Susan Lloyd and her son, Edward, are excited to see the next generation of the family take part in the business.
“It’s actually awesome. Watching the third generation come in is pretty incredible because a lot of times that is where it ends. We’re trying to shape them up so it continues,” Edward Lloyd Jr. said.
Susan Lloyd knows her husband, who died in 2019, would be proud of the work their children and grandchildren put into Agvise Research.
“It is a family thing. We’re very fortunate to have all our grandchildren participating. They want to be here,” Susan Lloyd said. “There are all hands on decks, which is great. He would be very proud to see all his grandkids want to help.”
Committed to community
Through its trials and tribulations, both Agvise Laboratories and Agvise Research have remained diligent in their dedication to Northwood, which has a population of about 700, and have given many people the opportunity to use their degrees in a rural setting.
“I grew up about 13 miles from here in a small town, and we lived in Fargo for many years. I was working in computers there. My wife and I had always wanted to move back, especially with our family and raise our kids here,” Corey Zimprich said. “Honestly I did not think I would ever be able to find a programming job in like a small town I grew up in, so it has been great. Finding this kind of work here has been a big thing.”
Zimprich is a computer programmer and has been working at Agvise Laboratories for over five years.
Agvise Laboratories is the second largest employer in Northwood, employing 43 people full time year-round and 90 employees during their busy fall season, Boe said.
Zimprich enjoys the camaraderie and close-knit community within Agvise Laboratories.
“Everybody has the same sort of values, and it's such a small-town feeling company, that everyone is very close. I feel a lot closer to my co-workers here compared to previous jobs I have had,” he said.
Agvise Laboratories wanted to show its appreciation to the town of Northwood for all their support and help after tragedy struck the building not once, but twice.
“To show our commitment and thanks to Northwood as a community for helping us get through that fire and disaster, we actually built a new building for the grocery store downtown,” Boe said. “We really are committed to Northwood and the rural community that we are in.”