Soil testing lab opens in Milford, facilitating area farmers.

Bill Rohrer Jr. has worked with agriculture for nearly his entire career, but his latest venture has been a long time coming.

Over the last year, the former administrator of the Delaware Nutrient Management Program has spent every scrap of time he had lining up funding, staff and customers for his own nutrient business. On Friday morning, the doors opened at AgroLab, in Milford’s Airport Road business park.

“This idea was born more than five years ago,” he said at the grand opening. “I’m very, very happy to see it finally here.”

Rohrer’s new business is Delmarva’s first soil-testing laboratory, specializing in measuring exactly what chemicals and minerals are hidden in the soil of farms across the peninsula.

“In a lot of ways, this is the backbone of crop production,” Rohrer said. “It’s a vital service for farmers. When you’re in the business of farming, you have to know what’s in your soil.”

But it’s one that has never brought a business to Delmarva. The closest soil lab is in Richmond, Va., and other than that “there’s nothing in the Northeast,” Rohrer said.

“The farmers in Delmarva have to go to people hundreds or a thousand miles away, and now we have a location set up, right here on Delmarva, that can provide this core service to the people I’ve worked with for my entire career.”

It doesn’t take a very large lab to do that work. To do its testing, AgroLab takes a bag of soil sent in from the client’s farm, dries it out and grinds it up so it’s the same all the way through, and finally pulls out just a small cup of dirt — enough to fill a paper cup from the office water cooler.

Once they’ve got a sample picked out, they use a small measure of acid to dissolve the elements and nutrients hidden in a soil sample. Lab head Jacob Uiron then drains out the liquid and runs it through a machine smaller than a refrigerator that reveals the exact amount of each compound in the dirt, along with its pH level.

“A farmer, in order to do their job, needs to know how much fertilizer and nutrients are needed for their land, in order to grow their crops,” Rohrer said. “These results tell them and the company doing the fertilizer what nutrients the soil needs, and that lets them adjust their treatment of the land accordingly.”

AgroLab is built to serve hundreds of clients; the room that stores their soil samples is easily twice the size of the one where testing happens.

“Space is important — we have the room to save the samples for four to six months,” Rohrer said. “If somebody says, ‘hey, we’ve got a question about our results,’ or they want a new test, we can just pull the sample they sent us out of the storage rack and run a fresh test.”

AgroLab is located at 1009 Mattlind Way, off Airport Road in northwest Milford. For more information, call 265-2734.