John Ive OAM named a finalist of Agricultural Innovation Award

Yass Tribune – 18/9/19
Hannah Sparks

NOMINEE: Superfine wool grower John Ive with his dog Moccha at Talaheni in Yass River. Photo: Hannah Sparks

NOMINEE: Superfine wool grower John Ive with his dog Moccha at Talaheni in Yass River. Photo: Hannah Sparks

Superfine wool grower John Ive's research and scientific studies have had major benefits for the farming community and now the industry is giving thanks.

Mr Ive was nominated for and awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) on Australia Day 2019 for his service to the superfine wool growing industry.

Now, he has also been nominated for the Agricultural Innovation Award under the NSW/ACT Regional Achievement and Community Awards and is one of four finalists.

The name of Mr Ive's Yass River property, Talaheni, translates to 'wait-a-while' in Arabic and represents a practical demonstration of his lifework to improving farming methods.

However, this story begins on a dairy farm in Victoria.

"My father was a dairy farmer. I went through agricultural college and did agricultural science at university. I was all set to come back to the farm, but a drought hit in 1965-66," Mr Ive said.

"I said to Dad, 'there's no point in me being here' and he agreed. So, I went on a working holiday to the Northern Territory but stayed there for about eight years. I started as a farm labourer and became a research scientist with CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation)."

That was the beginning of Mr Ive's interest in using science to improve farming.

Still to this day, he maintains that: "If you don't measure it, you can't manage it."

Between Mr Ive's time with CSIRO in Katherine, NT and Canberra he studied grazing systems, land uses, forestry and water management.

For a period in the 1980s, he worked seven days a week, from 6am until late into the night, to assist the government to resolve conflict between logging and conservation by spatially identifying their contrasting values.

"Robyn would bring the kids into work on a Sunday so I could see them," Mr Ive said.

Mr Ive is married to Robyn and they have two children, Steven and Carolynn. Both now have full-time jobs but still regularly assist in running Talaheni.

He said his favourite research project was Heartlands, which looked at sustainable land use in the Murray-Darling Basin. Unfortunately, despite promising progress, funding was cut, and the research never completed.

They say you can't take the country out of the boy and to escape Canberra Mr Ive bought a rundown property in the Yass Valley.

"It was locally considered a basket-case. We spent all our weekends there. We put in a lot of work," he said.

The property had dryland salinity issues, making the soils highly acidic, leading to large areas of bare soil, poor water quality in dams, declining pastures and dying tree cover.

Mr Ive began experimenting to find a solution, despite being told by an industry agency it was a waste of time. Today, his method is considered best practice.

He sub-divided the property according to landscape features enabling livestock to be kept off regenerating paddocks, used sewage ash and lime to address the acidity, introduced salt-tolerant pasture species and established thousands of trees on rocky ridges.

This and other farm experiments have improved Talaheni's wool, which is now among the finest in the Yass Valley and has won numerous awards.

"I probably still consider myself a researcher and scientist. I do experiments on the farm. I have heaps of things going on here," Mr Ive said.

However, Mr Ive isn't driven by accolades and said he won't be adding OAM to his title.

"It's in my genes. My father did the same. He would always say, 'whatever you do today, try to do it better tomorrow'. Consequently, I don't like the term best practice because it implies finality," he said.

Mr Ive has been described as selfless by industry leaders, which is indicative of his willingness to share knowledge.

"I think it's the right way to do things. I have field days here. People think I'm stupid because it costs me money, but I get a lot of ideas from the people I have here," he said.

Mr Ive has hosted many community, state, national and international groups at Talaheni.

Last year, he hosted members and guests of the Australian Superfine Wool Growers' Association's (ASWGA) annual national forum and received a universally positive response.

That became the catalyst for the association's national president, Danny Picker of Bigga, to nominate Mr Ive for the Agricultural Innovation Award.

"Although few of us can aspire to the work rate of John, he is a constant inspiration to the rest of us superfine growers in Goulburn-Yass," ASWGA acknowledged some time ago.

"When we start to think that the future of superfine wool looks bleak and the demands for sustainable land use look too daunting, John Ive and Talaheni are there to show it can be done, with commitment and persistence."

Besides being an active and leading member of local Landcare groups over many years (Yass Valley Revegetation and Murrumbateman Landcare), Mr Ive is currently a committee member or chair of key national farming organisations including ASWGA, Sheep CRC, Grassland Society NSW, BoM External Reference Group. He is also a member of Farmers for Climate Action and Soils for Life.