Barry Kearney Agriculturist of the Year

·3 min read

He may be the founder of a hugely successful company, but Barry Kearney keeps it real.

The former farmer, turned inventor, turned entrepreneur has been named ‘Agriculturist of the Year,’ for 2020 by the Chatham and District Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m very honoured,” Kearney says of receiving the award.

“When we had to write up a biography for the awards program, I thought there are people who are much more qualified than me.”

Kearney no longer works the land, but he’s a major player in Ontario agriculture helping sow the seeds that feed Chatham-Kent and beyond.

Raised on a farm near Ridgetown, Kearney says he “never wanted to do anything else but farm.”

He wasn’t a fan of school. Instead, Kearney channelled his energy into raising livestock and cash cropping with his father.

He got into the planter business by chance when he modified an International planter for his own use. In 1979, in his dad’s small shop on the home farm, he converted a 4-row planter into a 7-row planter.

At the time, he says, the economy was tight and farmers were looking for ways to increase yields.

He put an ad in the paper advertising his new-fangled planter and sold three in two day’s time.

Kearney’s Planters was born.

Over that first winter, Kearney built 10 planters with a little help from neighbours and friends.

Building the machinery remained a winter project through the 1980’s, Kearney adds, until expansion plans saw a move to his current property on Turin Line.

In 1989, the business incorporated.

Today, Kearney Planters employs 25 people full-time, and they have clients across the globe.

Not one to sit in an ivory tower, the 74-year-old stays active in his company. He’s often on Highway 401 delivering planters to farmers from Windsor to the Quebec border.

His daughter Colleen Janssens is the company’s Chief Executive Officer.

Kearney Planters is the largest dealer of Kinze Planters in Ontario. Kinze is a family-owned U.S. based company, the second largest producer of planters in North America.

But brand new isn't always the way.

“Not everybody is in the market for a new planter,” Kearney says, adding a big part of the business is selling used machinery.

Modifying and customizing machinery to accommodate a customer’s is a niche for the business, as is supplying parts.

“People come to us with different ideas,” he says. “If it’s reasonable and feasible, we try to accommodate the customer, if at all possible.”

Kearney's employees will go to the farm and do onsite repairs and modifications.

“We’ve built our reputation on trying to build a quality product,” he adds.

He gives top marks to his employees.

Kearney says the breadth of knowledge and experience his team has, is what makes the company so successful.

“We don’t sell you what we have, we sell you what you want or need,” he adds.

Brand new combining corn heads are also a big part of the business, with Kearney’s being the Ontario dealer for Italian-based Drago Tec.

Perhaps there’s a genetic component to Kearney’s success as his grandfather Delmer used to be the International dealer in Ridgetown.

Married to Sandra, the couple have raised two daughters and two sons. The Kearneys are active in the community contributing to many causes including the Mary Webb Centre and Chatham-Kent Hospice.

The chamber of commerce will host a virtual awards ceremony on social media on Nov. 25

Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Herald