Grain Journal recently visited Burkmann Nutrition, a well-established family-owned agri-business based in Danville, KY, about 35 miles southwest of Lexington. With 15 stores and over 200 employees, Burkmann Nutrition is a resilient and evolving cornerstone in the agricultural landscape, having navigated shifts in the industry and adapted to changes over its nearly 45 years in business. Manager and nutritional team member Brent Williams provided insights into the practical aspects of feed manufacturing offering clarity on the feed business and its distinctive position in the market.

In the hierarchy of the feed industry, Burkmann Nutrition fills the gap between top-tier international companies such as Cargill, ADM, Purina Animal Nutrition, and the smaller regional manufacturers. What sets them apart from regional competitors is their extensive reach, operating across six states—a noteworthy scope for a regional mill. This wide-reaching presence positions them as a vital link between local suppliers and major industry players.

A Helping Hand

Despite their scale, Burkmann Nutrition maintains a pragmatic approach, emphasizing the importance of collaboration with regional mills. Williams highlights the need to be supportive and friendly with competitors in the region, sharing information and ideas. A testament to this ethos is their willingness to step in and produce feed for a regional competitor when needed.

Williams emphasizes, "It was a strain for both of us, but we did it. I could call him today and say, ‘I'm down; I need help,’ and I know that he will come to my rescue. And he’s not the only one I can count on. It’s agriculture. I think our culture is different. It’s people first."

In his youth, Brent Williams, son of Burkmann Nutrition founder Dr. David Williams, faced a familiar industry question—should he continue the family legacy? The weight of this decision was magnified by the substantial legacy of his father.

Planting the Seed

Dr. David Williams, a pioneer with a Ph.D. in ruminant nutrition, carved a unique niche in the industry. His groundbreaking research included early weaning of beef calves and feedlot studies with Holstein beef. Notably, he became the sole animal scientist globally to develop a cattle mineral containing Rumensin. This cost-effective feed additive boosted feed efficiency by 4%, backed by extensive research studies at leading institutions.

As Dr. Williams continued his research in the Louisville region, a pivotal moment unfolded. A farmer named Jerry Germann, Dr. Williams' college fraternity brother, made a practical decision by purchasing the old Purina feed and flour mill in Danville. To him, it was simply a place to store corn. Faced with requests from farmers needing a location to grind corn, Germann recognized the untapped potential in this practical and necessary situation.

Taking decisive action, Germann reached out to Dr. David Williams, his buddy from college, who was about to embark on a new job in the Louisville area, conveniently close to his hometown. Jerry's call to Dr. Williams marked the recognition of potential in the venture. The convergence of expertise and an unexpected opportunity, framed by practical considerations, laid the groundwork for the establishment of Burkmann Nutrition.

The senior Williams observed the practices of various feed dealers. Many had bulk bins, and larger companies like Purina would produce a parlor pellet, delivering it to dealers with limited options for dairy farmers. The typical scenario involved a farmer walking in and being offered choices like 16, 18, or 20% protein pellet. That's all they had.

Recognizing a chance for tailoring solutions, the senior Williams understood that the one-size-fits-all approach would not be the optimal fit for every dairy farmer. He understood it was a bit more complicated, considering factors like forage, farm conditions, and the specific needs of the cows. His vision was clear—they could assist dairy farmers by tailoring the feed to suit their individual farms and animals. The goal was to establish a more direct relationship between manufacturing, nutrition, and the dairy farm. This approach allowed for greater customization, meeting the specific needs of farmers in a more nuanced way. They had a business-- now they just needed a name.

What’s in a Name?

Germann was aware of the burgeoning technology of crossbreeding grains to optimize feed and said, “I think this hybrid thing is going take hold. Why don’t we use a hybrid name?” And so, the birth of Burkmann—the fusion of "Burks," a name steeped in the Williams family's seven-generation heritage combined with the latter part of "Germann." The amalgamation resulted in a name that not only encapsulated the roots of the enterprise but also resonated with the evolving landscape of agricultural technology. Chuckling, Williams shared, "People still call and say that they personally know Mr. Burkmann."

Burkmann Nutrition opened its doors on August 1, 1979. Again, the goal was simple—provide tailored feed solutions for dairy farmers based on their forage, farm, and cow-specific needs. To get customers, Dr. Williams and Germann adopted a hands-on approach. “We started with one employee and zero customers. In the beginning, dad and Jerry not only sold but personally produced and delivered feed.”

“Fortunately, our business model has proven successful, especially considering the abundance of dairy cows at that time—around 250,000 to 270,000 in the area, spanning approximately 5,000 to 6,000 dairy farms. This presented 5,000 to 6,000 opportunities, prompting our gradual growth. To manage the expansion, the company grew, and while our footprint remains regional, strategically aligning with areas where the dairy population thrived, the landscape has changed. Presently, there are fewer than 40,000 dairy cows—possibly closer to 35,000—and fewer than 400 dairies, a significant decline from the 5,000 to 6,000 in the past.”

In 1986, Burkmann Nutrition expanded its team with the addition of nutritionist Dr. Gary T. Lane. This calculated decision, under Dr. Williams’ leadership, signaled the company's entry into the domain of nutrition expertise. In their conversation, Dr. Lane expressed his lack of familiarity with selling feed, to which Dr. Williams assured him that selling feed wasn't a prerequisite. Instead, the emphasis was on Dr. Lane's role in assisting dairy farmers to be more sustainable and profitable.

Dr. Lane set a pivotal goal: elevating the average daily milk production of dairy cows to 35 to 40 pounds, with the potential to keep more dairies sustainable. While these figures might seem modest by today's standards, the narrative unfolds to reveal the transformative impact of technology, genetic modification, crossbreeding, and advancements in cattle nutrition. This strategic decision to integrate nutritional expertise reflects Burkmann Nutrition' shrewd approach and adaptability in an ever-evolving agricultural landscape.

Word to Live By

That distinctive approach—"Our Science, Your Advantage”—became the company tagline. Williams explains, “There are two guiding principles that influence every decision we make. First, is the science behind it advantageous for the farmers? This is a question deeply embedded in our thought process and a criterion that shapes our choices. The second is a simple yet powerful question— is this a good thing for the farmer? It's a mantra I've heard repeated countless times, emphasizing its integral role in our decision-making.”

While some feed manufacturers touch upon similar themes, Williams believes the focus on these principles sets Burkmann Nutrition apart. “Our tagline is not just a marketing slogan; we genuinely believe in it, and it guides our actions. Unlike some larger entities where the tagline might be more of a formality, we have a genuine commitment to the farmer's well-being.”

Williams relays an example of the company’s straightforward approach. “We entered into a partnership with a prominent processor, and upon formalizing the agreement, one of their staff members asked for an organizational flow chart to understand roles and contacts. I responded, 'A flow chart?' They confirmed and inquired if we had received theirs, which turned out to be a four-page flow chart. Four pages! I replied, 'Can you grab a pen? Here's our flow chart: Brent Williams. Tom Hastings [a member of the nutritional team]. If you need anything, those are your contacts.'

Dr. Williams remains an invaluable presence in the business. His exceptional memory comes in handy as he can recall names of contacts and details about equipment from decades ago.

Both Williams understand the importance of adapting to new technology. Automation, specifically computer batching software, has been a significant change in day-to-day operations. Today, Williams actively develops formulas on-site, ensuring custom formulas seamlessly integrate into the production schedule, facilitating prompt delivery.

Embracing Automation

Burkmann Nutrition has also incorporated custom robotic palletizers as part of its automation strategy. At the Danville location, a Yaskawa Motoman MPL160 robot and controller, featuring a four-axis design with a 160kg payload, are in operation. The EasyPic software provides a user-friendly Human-Machine Interface for robot arm path planning, minimizing the need for teach pendant interaction and facilitating adjustments to speed and product-pallet configurations.

The integrators successfully installed this system at Form-A-Feed, managing to fit the required technology within the allocated footprint. A Chantland MHS conveyor handles various types of bagged products throughout the filling, closing, and palletizing lines. The conveyance of paper, poly, and jute bags involves positioning them upright through closing systems, laying them down in line and at right angles to the closing line, and transferring them to palletizing areas. Three robots (one located in Danville, one in Louisville, and one in Bowling Green) contribute to the efficient operation of the line.

In terms of operation, one worker oversees the bag-labeling step along a conveyor and positions bags before they reach the sew-top sealer. Once filled with product, the bags travel along a second conveyor, where the robot picks and places them on one of two pallets located on either side of the robot's station. A second worker utilizes a forklift to remove completed pallets, transporting them to a wrapping station for shipping. Previously, the manual process involved two individuals catching every 50-pound bag, which proved to be a labor-intensive task with a high turnover rate.

Costs & Savings

However, for every solution, a new challenge arises. “Hurdles going forward have less to do with feed. It's employee retention, it’s insurance and rising costs. “We bought a new Peterbilt semi-tractor three years ago that cost approximately $145,000, and we bought two last year that were $220,000 each. The same truck cost $75,000 more. I paid for a third truck I don’t have.” Because of this, Williams is always looking for ways to save money.

During Grain Journal’s conversation with Williams, a vendor stopped by to check on the recent implementation of a credit card processing system at Burkmann Nutrition. According to Williams this update reduced costs by 20%, enhanced security, and improved back-office reporting. Rick Sumpter, vice president of sales at Propelr, a full-service payment processor, emphasized the innovative nature of Burkmann Nutrition while acknowledging that their payment processing had remained unchanged for years.

Burkmann Nutrition' upgraded system, takes a consultative approach and enables businesses to seamlessly accept credit, debit, and NFC payments across various devices, including virtual terminals and mobile apps. Sumpter states, "Transitioning to a new payment system may seem tedious and time-consuming, but it's not. In an hour or less, it's completed." He advises facility owners and managers to consider crucial factors such as optimizing payment rates, accepting diverse payment types, ensuring transaction reporting, and prioritizing cardholder data security for business growth. This cost-saving effort aligns with Burkmann's commitment to putting farmers first.

Driving Efficiency

In 2017, Williams made a savvy move by adding a drive-through to the remodeled Danville location. The drive-through not only resonated with customers, especially women making larger orders, but also proved invaluable during COVID-19, allowing them to stay open. The expansion also features three self-serve pet washing areas, attracting over 180 dogs to the store monthly. Williams sees these amenities as contributing to Danville's family-friendly reputation. The larger space allowed for expanded livestock feed offerings, emphasizing the company's roots in farm animal nutrition. With four on-staff Ph.D.s and one veterinarian, Burkmann's deep understanding of the science behind their products sets them apart in Kentucky.

As Burkmann Nutrition celebrates 45 years in business, the narrative unfolds as a testament to resilience, adaptability, and a steadfast commitment to the agricultural community. Operating as a cornerstone between top-tier international companies and regional manufacturers.

Yet, amidst their scale, a pragmatic approach prevails, emphasizing collaboration with regional mills and fostering a culture of support and camaraderie. The story of Burkmann Nutrition is a narrative of evolution, innovation, and a deep-rooted commitment to putting farmers first.

Learn more about Burkmann Nutrition at

Contact Brent Williams at

Learn more about Propelr at

Contact Rick Sumpter at