Robert Laning was born on the family’s century farm near Villa Nova in 1927. The farm bred and milked 150 thoroughbred cows, including two Canadian champion females. Robert’s early involvement in the farms operation included taking on leadership roles with a number of breeding associations in the province. He became President of the Norfolk Holstein Club, the Oxford District Cattle Breeder’s Association (later merging into the Western Ontario Breeders Inc.), and the Ontario Association of Animal Breeders where he held a 16-year tenure with cattle and swine sales throughout North America and Europe.
While at the 1960 Royal Winter Fair, Robert saw first-hand the new developments in equipment for animal operations. Realizing these products filled a need within the industry and could be a profitable endeavor for his own farm career, Robert entered into the agricultural equipment wholesale market.
The business started on the family’s farm, selling water bowls for livestock, conveyor systems for removing manure from barns, bunk feeders and silo unloading systems. Robert opened a distribution centre based in Waterford and, by the mid 1970’s, had grown to include an outlet in Quebec and a warehouse in Kensington, P.E.I. The business put Norfolk County on the map with sales to 800 retailers and companies across Eastern Canada, Germany, Britain, Italy, Denmark and the United States.
“I had no business background,” Laning said, “but when your own money is at stake, you learn in a hurry. If you’re going to have a business, you better have good employees – ones who are smarter than you in certain things.” This included his own family; Laning sold the business to his children in 1992, but remained a constant supporting figure.
The success of Robert H. Laning and Sons Ltd. came with its niche focus for the company, building relationships within the market from around the world and taking great strides in sourcing top quality specialty equipment that would best meet the needs of the farmer. While the product lines changed over the years, the focus on specialties remained throughout the company’s nearly 60 years in operation.
Robert is featured in our Virtual Agricultural Hall of Fame Video, showcasing 2020’s recipients and loved ones receiving their awards.