In 1886, Jefferson Davis Heiskell supervised the construction of a grain storage warehouse in Tulare, California for his employer. Later, he bought the warehouse and went into business for himself. J.D. Heiskell's company stored the harvest wheat crops of local farms prior to shipping to processing mills in northern California, and developed trusting, long-lasting relationships with farmers throughout the region. As the San Joaquin Valley developed into one of the world's most productive agricultural regions, J.D. Heiskell & Co. grew, adding mixing capabilities to meet the needs of the burgeoning population of livestock feeders and dairy operators.
Upon Jefferson Davis' death in 1926, his only son, John Tyler, inherited the business. John's younger sister, Elizabeth, successfully ran the business during World War I, and served as secretary and office manager until her death in 1958. John's older sister, Lucy, was vice president of the company until her death in 1960. The company prospered and grew along with Central California's expanding agriculture economy. John built and operated the first cotton gin in Tulare County, and then built the county's first cottonseed oil mill. Through the mid-century, poultry operations represented the majority of sales activity. By the 1950s, Central California dairies had grown at a rapid pace, and became the largest local consumers of grains and agricultural by-products. By the end of the booming 50s, J.D. Heiskell & Co. evolved into a full-range feed milling enterprise, responding to the needs of a clientele dominated by dairy producers.
One of John Heiskell's two daughters, Patricia, married Dale W. Hillman in 1953, and he joined the family firm two years later. John retired in 1970, and maintained an active interest in the company until his death in 1972. Under Dale's leadership, the business continued to flourish through his embrace of science and technology. Near the original wooden warehouse, Dale built one of the first computer-driven, high-production feed mills in the state. It turned out to be a providential addition, as a 1980s development boom in southern California encouraged dozens of dairy operators to sell their highly prized real estate and move their operations north to the San Joaquin Valley. Soon, Tulare County boasted the largest population of dairy animals of any spot in the nation; a census showed 385,000 human residents in the county, followed closely by 375,000 cows.
The next round of growth for J.D. Heiskell & Co. began in 1989 with the construction of two miles of railroad track and six 100-foot concrete silos at our Tulare facility - this "unit train" unloading venue enabled us to become a volume buyer and shipper of Midwest grains. Later, J.D. Heiskell & Co. purchased another feed milling business, increasing our capacity by 30%. In 1995, the company took over the feed production operations of Dairyman's Cooperative Creamery of Tulare (now Land O'Lakes), which increased sales another 40%. A crowning achievement occurred at the end of the century when J.D. Heiskell & Co. was named the first-ever "California Family Business of the Year" by the Institute for Family Business.
2000 and beyond
Since 1991, Scot Hillman, the fourth generation of family leadership, has energetically grown the company through innovative partnerships and acquisitions. In 2000, J.D. Heiskell & Co. bought five dairy-focused mills in Washington, Idaho and California, contributing to a 300% growth in volume and vaulting the firm into the top five American feed manufacturing companies. By 2002, the company was included in the Forbes list of the Top 250 Privately Held Firms.
The spectacular success of the company provided the impetus to invest in a multi-million dollar renovation of our Pixley, California milling facility - considered to be the nation's single highest-producing feed mill. In 2003, the company sold its facilities in Washington state to Cargill, Inc. and focused its attention and resources on growing into new markets. In 2004, J.D. Heiskell & Co. formed a joint venture with J.R. Simplot Land & Livestock to build the world's largest grain rolling facility, the Double J Milling Co. in Mountain Home, Idaho. In July of 2005, we moved our commodity merchandising and accounting businesses into a new, high-tech office building in Elkhorn, Nebraska, and just two months later announced the purchase of a feed manufacturing facility and grain elevator in Portales, New Mexico. The purchase of that business from Garvey Processing, coupled with the 2006 lease of a storage and transload facility in nearby Friona Texas, gave J.D. Heiskell & Co. a strong presence in a new geography, and was the genesis of our Southwest Business Group.
In February of 2006, the company completed construction of a 10,000-ton capacity storage barn in Bliss, Idaho and began shipping unit-trains of Distillers Dried Grains and other protein meals into the Idaho market. We built a similar 20,000-ton capacity commodity barn near our Friona facility in early 2007.
In September of 2007, J.D. Heiskell & Co. grew again, opening an office in Minneapolis, Minnesota and staffing it with two experienced, international traders who brought to the company a new business, shipping feed commodities into Mexico and the Pacific Rim. The addition of new expertise and strategic operating assets allowed the company to dramatically increase its trading volumes and market reach, and we enjoyed the most financially successful years of our long history back-to-back in 2007 and in 2008; in 2008, the J.D. Heiskell & Co.'s gross sales exceeded $3 billion dollars for the first time ever.
Despite the difficult economy that confronted businesses worldwide during 2009, J.D. Heiskell & Co. remained on the offensive, opening a regional office for its Southwest Business Group in Amarillo, TX.
Into the second decade of the 21st century, the company actually accelerated its post-Y2K growth. In August of 2010, J.D. Heiskell & Co. partnered with Land O'Lakes Purina Feed on a joint venture in California known as Golden State Feed & Grain. The joint venture combined the feed manufacturing assets of the two parent companies in Pixley and Hanford, California, respectively, into a strong and diversified entity aimed at serving the needs of local dairy customers with value-added feeds and grains. On December 31, 2009, J.D. Heiskell & Co. and Land O'Lakes consummated another business transaction when Heiskell purchased the Idaho feed production assets of LOL in Idaho, comprised of a feed mill in Gooding, Idaho and a smaller feed mill in Twin Falls, Idaho. The company also built out an additional 38,000 tons of flat storage at its location in Friona, Texas to handle unit trains of corn gluten feed and canola meal and pellets. On January 14, 2011, J.D. Heiskell & Co. purchased Hawkeye Gold, a marketer of ethanol and ethanol co-products based in Ames, Iowa. Later in the year, the company opened a Hawkeye Gold trading office in Portland, Oregon and in December of 2011 opened a regional trading office in Windsor, Colorado.
As the company's memorable 125th year rolled into 2012, it continued to expand its geographic boundaries and increase its market presence in previously established markets. In Colorado, JDHCO leased elevators in Ft. Morgan, Mead, Stoneham, and Wiggins, purchased a feed mill in Platteville, and opened a bull calf operation in Kersey known as Quanah Cattle Company. J.D. Heiskell & Co. grew into new states as well during 2012, through joint ventures with Moroni Feeders and Intermountain Farmers in Nephi, Utah to form Central Utah Grain, and with Kent Nutrition Group in New York, Vermont, and Maine to form Gold Star Feed & Grain. In March of 2013, the Hawkeye Gold office in Ames, Iowa relocated to nearby Ankeny, Iowa. That same month, the company purchased Purina Animal Nutrition's (formerly LOL/Purina Feed) 50% interest in Golden State Feed & Grain, and those employees became Heiskell employees. In June of 2016, Living Water Commodities, a division of Hawkeye Gold LLC, began operations, providing service to our export customers and becoming a critical supply chain link between DDGS/Feed ingredient producers and Chinese buyers.