The DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association recognized the Hintzsche family, and the business entities they established over 52 years, as the 2020 Innovators of the Year. The following story was provided by DAAHA with pictures from the family.
Ken and Rich Hintzsche were brothers farming with their dad, Louie, in Pierce Township. The brothers decided to expand the grain farming operation to include raising livestock to better use their labor, add income and increase the value of the grain they produced. They ground their grain for feed at the elevator and mill of A. H Wittry in Troxel, a community in Kane County between Hinckley and Maple Park.
In 1962, while delivering a load of grain to be ground for feed, the elderly Wittry approached Ken and Rich with a business propositioned. Wittry reportedly said, “Boys, I have an offer you shouldn’t refuse.”
They didn’t refuse the offer and purchased the small elevators and roller mills at Troxel and Maple Park. The brothers began by expanding the grain storage capacity of the elevator and adding a new livestock feed business.
The Hintzsches built the area’s first pelleted feed mill. Ken and Rich tirelessly staged split-feeding hog trials on customer’s farms to compare the traditional method of feeding vs. the “modern” method of using pelleted feed with additional nutrients. The concept proved successful and producers quickly switched. The Hintzsches next added liquid feed supplements and the ability to manufacture and track feed orders tailored specially for customers by feedlot and animal growth stage. With the growing concern for the spread of animal disease, the brothers developed and operated one of the first three-site integrated, isolated hog production facilities in the area.
Ken and Rich were the first to offer contract feeding to area producers. The farmer provided the facilities and labor while the Hintzsche company provided the animals, feed and everything else. This breathed new life into facilities and producers who had empty feedlots, were close to retiring, or just weren’t willing to invest on their own anymore. The brothers bought and expanded a pork production facility in Lee County with the capacity to market up to 165,000 hogs per year. The employee attention to detail and quality helped Hintzsche Pork become a “preferred supplier” to Hormel and Cargill meat packers.
Even while growing the feed business, the company was expanding in products and services for crop producers. The company added a liquid fertilizer business and invested heavily in liquid suspension fertilizer operations. They often innovated procedures for mixing and handling solutions in the plant and on the farm.
Ken and Rich pioneered the use of industrial byproducts such as ammonium nitrate from the steel mills and phosphate slurry from gypsum piles. They built equipment to reconstitute and use these materials in fertilizer suspensions for application on the farmers’ fields. To accurately apply the liquid fertilizers, the company bought and operated the area’s first three-wheel “Big A” floater fertilizer applicator in the late ‘60s. They custom modified the fertilizer applicators to accommodate for different plant growth stages, banding of fluid fertilizers to improve crop response, and new suspension products. They used different tire configurations, boom and nozzle modifications, added saddle tanks, installed mixing and agitation equipment, and employed “light-bar” guidance, auto-steering and integrated a global positioning system (GPS).
The company expanded into many other services for their farm customers including opening a commodities trading office where producers could hedge their crop production. This also led to many innovative grain marketing tools which are commonplace now. The Hintzsches added retail motor oil, fuel and lube delivery, plus GPS soil testing and analysis, and retail seed sales.
In response to the farmers’ need for grain storage, Hintzsche Company continued to add storage capacity at their facilities. The first two buildings at the Troxel location each held 1.2 million bushels of corn. The third building at their Waterman location was the largest of its kind in Northern Illinois and held over 4.2 million bushels of grain. Hintzsche held many seminars and demonstration days for area producers to show the different crop response to management practices and crop products. They hosted many agricultural tours from high school vocational agriculture students to international groups interested in how retail agricultural services and innovations could benefit producers. The company helped community college and university students gain experience by giving them employment during summer months and provided almost $65,000 in scholarships over 10 years for high school students interested in agricultural careers. Hintzsche Company was able to grow to over 10 locations and innovate by involving their sons and nephews in the business and treating their nearly 200 employees like partners. The company provided employee training, gave employees autonomy in decision making, and opened their accounting records which contributed to employee satisfaction.
Ken and Rich Hintzsche were innovative in their thinking, kind and loyal to their customers, and treated their employees like family. Under their example and guidance, the Hintzsche Companies flourished and expanded for 52 years until its sale to Helena Agri-Enterprises in 2014.