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October 19, 2022

Augusta lab triples space, looks to hire in growing field

two people in lab with pan of soil Courtesy / Woods End Laboratories Lab employees accept samples from around the world.
Company: Woods End Laboratories Address: 150 Whitten Road in Augusta Location: Houses a 13,500-square-foot building used for lab and manufacturing space.  
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It looks like climate-smart farming is a growing field in the Pine Tree State.

Loam Bio, an Australian maker of fungal products that help farmers fight climate change, recently expanded its Brunswick laboratory to a space nearly 10 times larger in South Portland to accommodate market demand.

And Freeport-based Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment received $35 million in federal funds to support adoption of climate smart agricultural practices on farms nationwide.

They're now joined by Woods End Laboratories, an agricultural soil health testing company that tripled its lab space through a recent move from Mount Vernon to Augusta, but attracts clients worldwide. 

"We accept samples from around the world,” Rebecca Harvey, the company’s CEO, told Mainebiz. “Recently we’ve been doing lot of carbon testing. Most of those samples come from the Midwest, where large agricultural practices are interested in selling carbon credits.”

Healthy soil

Woods End was founded as a soil biology testing lab in 1974 by William Brinton, a soil scientist who also teaches at the University of Maine.

person in lab with lab coat
Courtesy / Woods End Laboratories
Rebecca Harvey

The lab now provides a broad range of scientific support services for the responsible environmental interaction of agriculture with nature.

Brinton is the inventor of the company’s flagship brand, Solvita, a diagnostic product used worldwide to help measure biological activity in soil and composts.

Woods End was the first to introduce soil health testing as a means to gauge soil biological fertility, according to its website, and the first to experiment with infrared spectroscopy methods to evaluate CO2 emissions. 

Today, growers, farmers, conservationists, students and others worldwide use Woods End’s products and services to monitor soil health, foodstuff spoilage and compost stability.

Company acquisition

In 2021 Deveron, an agriculture digital service and insights provider, and A&L Canada Laboratories, a provider of agricultural analyses, announced a joint venture to acquire Woods End. 

three people at lab workbench
Courtesy / Woods End Laboratories
Production of the Solvita brand of products at the Mount Vernon location. Woods End Labs is undergoing renovations at its new location in Augusta.

Deveron is headquartered in Toronto, Canada, with an office in Kansas City, Mo., and A&L Canada Laboratories is based in Ontario, Canada.

Harvey said the joint venture created “a turn-key soil health platform” for U.S. agricultural markets and strengthens U.S. and international markets for the Solvita brand. 

“The partnership has also allowed us to execute plans to expand our facility and analytical services, the first of which is to relocate from our lab space in Mount Vernon to a 13,500-square-foot laboratory and manufacturing space on Whitten Road in Augusta,” she said.

flasks with soil and instruments
Courtesy / Woods End Laboratories
Soil samples are tested for CO2 and nitrogen.

The lab finalized its move last week and is still getting settled in, she added.

Bursting at the seams

Harvey joined Woods End in April as the company’s CEO.

“We provide testing and consulting services to farmers throughout the world, helping them understand the importance of fostering a healthy soil, in terms of promoting sustainable agriculture,” she said. “If you foster the microbiome of the soil, farmers can reduce their reliance on inorganic amendments and plants become more naturally resistant to insect predation, drought, etc.”

line of people with heavy equipment
Courtesy / Woods End Laboratories
The Woods End Laboratories team moved to larger digs in Augusta.

Up to now, Woods End was at 290 Belgrade Road in Mount Vernon. 

“We’ve sprawled into different buildings here,” said Harvey. 

The lab was in about 2,000 square feet of space that was a former home. There was another 1,000 to 2,000 square feet in an ancillary barn. 

All of the available space was completely occupied by personnel and testing and manufacturing equipment.

“We were bursting at the seams,” Harvey said.

The acquisition by Deveron and A&L Canada Laboratories was an opportunity for Brinton to take a step back from daily operations and become the firm’s science advisory consultant. The Mount Vernon property belongs to Brinton and he lives there in a separate house.

According to a Deveron news release, Deveron and A&L agreed to purchase the assets of Woods End for $2.25 million.

In the release posted last year, Brinton said, “I believe soil health is critical to the future of society in so far as it links farming, nutrition and climate under the theme of sustainable practices. This new venture integrating Woods End, Deveron and A&L will support that goal and place the science and practice of soil health at the forefront.”

Larger space

Now the company is leasing a 13,500-square-foot building at 150 Whitten Road in Augusta for its lab and manufacturing space. The building is about 20 years old.

Frank O’Connor with the Dunham Group brokered the deal.

brick building with sign
Courtesy / Woods End Laboratories
Woods End’s new facility in Augusta provides much-needed space as the company plans further expansion.


How did they identify the location?

“Being in Augusta was ideal because it’s a great location to be able to attract a strong workforce,” said Harvey. “That was always a challenge for us in Mount Vernon.”

Another advantage is that the building is a single story. 

“When you’re moving soil samples around, you don’t want to monkey around with stairs or elevators,” Harvey said. “And it’s got a lot of open space. It’s a blank slate for us and there’s opportunity to potentially expand the space.”

The landlord owns about 100 acres behind the property, part of it technically in Hallowell. The acreage provides the potential to expand the facility, she said.

Two-phase fit-up

A lot of work had to be done for the move, including installing enough electrical outlets to accommodate specialty equipment and installing a dust mitigation system. 

The first phase of the expansion focuses on moving current operations to occupy the front half of the building. It’s expected that an expansion of services will result in utilizing the rear half of the building within the next 18 months. The total investment is expected to be $400,000, including new equipment. 

Financing for the move and fit-up was provided through additional resources made available through the company’s recent acquisition, Harvey said. 

Woods End currently has nine employees, but is looking to grow the staff, mostly with entry-level lab technicians. 

“I anticipate maybe another four or five positions in the next 12 months,” Harvey said. “The ultimate goal is 50 employees.”

She added, “It’s our hope that, with our move, we’ll be able to expand services. That will allow us to be more proactive around, and reactive to, emerging contaminants.”

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