He may be retiring, but Ivan Shaw is still as passionate and optimistic about dried fruit growing as when he first began as a raw but enthusiastic novice 35 years ago.
Ivan is regarded as one of dried fruit’s most energetic and progressive leaders, and though he’s recently sold his property and is stepping down (though will remain on Hort Innovation’s dried grape SIAP), he’s hopeful he’ll watch a phase of regeneration continue to unfold.
“What we need is an influx of younger, enthusiastic innovative people, who want to enjoy the lifestyle and the rewards of growing dried fruit,” Ivan said. “It just doesn’t seem to be on the radar for a lot of people under 30 and I can’t really understand why. It’s a great way of life, can be rewarding financially and it’s tremendously satisfying…”
Building the foundations
Ivan is one of the industry’s most practical and progressive grower leaders. Always pushing to improve, simplify and modify, he has played a key role in industry leadership and on the practical development of a litany of ideas and techniques that revolutionised the industry.
But Ivan wasn’t always destined to be a ‘blockie’. He grew up on the family wheat and sheep property at Boort, in north central Victoria, then went teaching. “I’ve always been interested in farming and mechanics. In the late 1970s while teaching in Adelaide, my wife Jude and I would visit her family often.”
Judith’s family grew dried grapes, and at the time the concept of trellis drying was being developed by CSIRO, originally as a salvage operation in wet seasons. Ivan thought it was a fantastic concept that would be instantly adopted. It wasn’t, but fortunately Jude’s father did, along with a minority of growers.
“Jude’s dad and I built a little harvester from bits of a grain harvester, a bit of an air conditioner, and other parts we scrounged from here and there. There were only one or two harvesters around at the time, and we won a prize for it at the Gadget Day which brought some interest from growers who were trying out trellis drying,” Ivan said.
In 1980, excited by the prospects for industry mechanisation and innovation, Ivan and Judith bought a 10-hectare section of her parents’ property.
“We built 35 harvesters over the next five or six years as a sideline to running the farm and to help pay off our debt,” Ivan said. “We didn’t have access to things like laser cutting – every one of them was made by hand, piece by piece.”
At the same time, Ivan was developing and manufacturing dehydrators and bin-drying systems, which remain the industry standard today.
A legacy of innovation
As the possibilities for mechanisation continued to be proven, the next challenge was to develop vineyard trellis systems specifically designed for mechanised production and higher productivity.
“The old T-trellis was developed for blocks planted up and worked by horses, resulting in very tight headlands and hand-working operations,” Ivan said.
“The biggest catalyst for change in the industry that I remember was a CSIRO field day in the early 1980s with plant scientist Peter Clingeleffer.
“A hanging cane system was among the techniques they were demonstrating. There was also a Swingarm concept shown, and although it was highly productive, it was quite unstable and deemed impractical by the industry.”
The potential was there, though, and people started playing with cordon-based production systems, such as single-wire vertical trellis. This led to Ivan’s Christmas tree trellis which evolved into the Shaw Swingarm Trellis, a more practical improvement on the earlier Irymple Swingarm trellis.
“We needed a system that would be easy to mechanise, physiologically better for the vine and that would create a reasonable microclimate suitable for the fruit,” Ivan said.
“The new trellises brought us to the point that existing machinery were not always adaptable, and led to the radial head harvester, built specially for Swingarm.
“Then came the evolution of two-row harvesters, two-row leaf pluckers, and two-row wetting machines which were exciting in their potential for dried fruit to be grown at scale. That, of course, was the beginning of corporate growing and led to the planting of some big, 200-hectare-plus dried fruit properties.”
Industry recognition for Ivan’s role in developing mechanised systems and machinery, and his leadership, resulted in his award of an Order of Australia Medal in 2005.
Ivan developed the radial head harvester specifically for the new Swingarm trellis
This profile is an edited extract from a story on Ivan in the January-March 2017 edition of The Vine magazine. Read the full profile on p16-17 here. The Vine is funded by Hort Innovation using the dried grape and table grape R&D levies, with contributions from the Australian Government. It is a joint publication between Dried Fruits Australia and the Australian Table Grape Association. For the dried grape industry, The Vine falls under the ‘Dried grape industry development project stage 2’ (DG13001), as described in the project summaries above.