Nearly 30 years ago, Ray Ward and his wife, Jolene, moved to Kearney and opened Ward Laboratories in a three-bay garage in an industrial park with limited capital. The business employed just one full-time and one part-time employee. In 1984, the company ran 14,000 samples. In 2011, the lab ran 267,000 samples.
Today, the company at 4007 Cherry Avenue in Kearney is an agriculture testing laboratory dedicated to serving farmers and ranchers — specifically focused on providing data to improve the quality and conservation of the soil. As agriculture has become more specialized, the testing and detailed analysis that Ward Laboratories provides has become even more critical to the industry. The company specializes in testing soils, plants, feed, forages, water, manures and fertilizer as well as other special testing projects.
During most of the year the laboratory employs 24 staff members full time. During peak times, as many as 49 employees are working at the lab running and analyzing samples to help fertilizer companies and agricultural companies improve production.
In 2011, Ward, who has a doctorate in plant science from South Dakota State University, became just the third American to receive an award from the international Soil and Plant Analysis Council for his contributions in the fields of soil testing and plant analysis.
He believes Bio Nebraska could play an important role in encouraging additional collaboration between industry and the state colleges and universities.
“I have used academia to help me get started. They are willing to give advice if you approach them,” Ward said. He also believes that the industry needs to be better self promoters and, in this effort, he also sees an opportunity for Bio Nebraska.
As someone who returned to Nebraska to start his company, Ward is a strong advocate for our state and would like to see more effort in conveying the opportunities available to those who come home to Nebraska after exploring or learning outside of the state.
“People need to know that Nebraska is a good place to start a business,” Ward said.
National Bioeconomy Blueprint
2016 Bioscience Industry