For more than 35 years, Northwest Agricultural Consultants has been providing the Columbia Basin with quality, in-house soil, plant and water testing services, continually upgrading its equipment and testing methods to deliver fast results.
Company President Wade Carter said the accredited lab strives for one-day or better turnaround, processing tens of thousands of samples from across Washington, Idaho and Oregon every year.
“The faster we can get people their data, the faster they can make their decisions,” he said.
Areas of analysis include soil, plant tissue, water, fertilizer, geotechnical, feed, nematode and macro- and micronutrient single tests.
Carter and his team primarily serve the agricultural sector, providing services to major ag retailers, government agencies, universities, other environmental labs and consultants and some private farming and residential customers.
“We’ve grown and we keep getting larger,” Carter said. “Our workflow kind of varies based off of what trends are taking place in agriculture. For example, for a long time we have done testing for hops. In the past three years it’s really ramped up due to demand. It kind of changes the way that testing is done as far as throughput.”
He explained that the diversification of crops grown in Eastern Washington has helped create more opportunities for the company to provide services and to offset market volatility.
Northwest Agricultural Consultants, or NWAG, also sells a complete line of labware, as well as lab and field instruments.
Carter said in the past decade, NWAG has seen a steady increase in demand for geotechnical testing services related to the structural properties of soil so has expanded its clientele to include municipal and state governments, landfill operators, treatment plants and geotechnical firms.
“Many of the fields are so closely related as far as what you’re testing and the instruments being used … (geotechnical) use(s) almost all the same testing methods, just slightly different procedures,” Carter said.
Carter said a lot of NWAG’s clientele on the geotechnical side are companies and engineers in western Washington.
“I think what makes us stand out as a laboratory is our high standards for data quality. Our laboratory group is staffed with talented people who have extensive analytical chemistry expertise,” he said.
“Our programmers are also brilliant at finding ways to move data around, which is invaluable for maintaining a fast turnaround time for our clients and ensuring that our results can be smoothly integrated into field monitoring apps and software,” he added.
One longtime customer, who asked not to be named to protect his company’s privacy, has been doing business with NWAG for 44 years, sending in soil and plant samples for broad spectrum analysis related to crop loss.
“It’s fairly reliable, their testing,” said the customer. “They have so much experience with me that if they do a test and it looks a little hinky, they’ll run it in a different manner to make sure the number is verified. And if they charge me for it, I don’t complain because I need accurate results.”
NWAG occupies a 5,000-square-foot, two-story commercial office off West Falls Avenue in Kennewick and employs 10 people.
The downstairs is devoted to a sample log-in and prep room to minimize the amount of dirt and other contaminants exposed to the sensitive instruments housed in the labs upstairs.
Carter said a large portion of the upper floor is devoted to a wet lab where chemical reactions and extractions take place.
Started by Marr Waddoups, whose motto was “don’t guess … soil test,” in the 1970s, NWAG began as Marr Waddoups and Associates. In the early 1980s, the name changed to Northwest Agricultural Consultants.
When Waddoups retired in 1990, his stepson, a chemist named Bob Sickles, took over.
“Bob was really good at agriculture, but his specialty was chemistry; he made the lab run really smooth,” Carter said.
Carter joined in 2008 while studying chemistry and the sciences in college. Originally a computer science major, he said he came to love the lab-side of the business.
Sickles offered Carter the managing role of the company when he retired in 2015. “It was an easy decision to stay,” Carter said.
Over the years, technology has evolved. Automation has enabled lab technicians to place samples into a machine, which produces data on an adjacent monitor; all trends are mapped in seconds, generating visuals to help customers better understand the data.
Automation has significantly increased the number of samples that can be processed, while paring down turnaround time.
Technology and automation are making their way into the fields as well.
With fiber-optics beginning to extend into rural areas, more farmers have access to vital real-time data in the palm of their hand. Soil moisture, pH monitoring and weather reports are just a few of the data feeds previously unavailable to remote growers.
“The new technology is really helpful,” Carter said. “It gives them a clue as to where to test. I think a lot of the newer technology and on-site sampling helps to find those management areas.”
“Previously, a lot of the time, people would just look at one area of their fields despite the variability throughout,” Carter said. “It’s pretty common now to see zone and grid sampling to determine yield zones.”
Looking to the future, Carter said NWAG plans to keep on the cutting- edge of industry innovations by continually upgrading instruments and equipment as new technology and testing methods become available.
“Currently, we are focused on making the right investments to keep up with growth, and we are also working on expanding our laboratory capabilities into other analytical testing areas,” Carter said. “People want accurate, precise, consistent results and that’s our priority no. 1.”
Northwest Agricultural Consultants: 2545 W. Falls Ave. in Kennewick; nwag.com; 509-783-7450 or 888-783-7450.
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