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Lifetime Achievement Award – Ian Smith

Industry Best Practice

The Lifetime Achievement Award is given to an individual who has provided motivational and inspirational leadership for the advancement of the apple and pear industry at a local community level or more broadly over the course of a number of years. 

2020 Lifetime Achievement recipient Ian Smith. Photo: Fred and Hannah.

Continual learning the key to Ian Smith’s success

Continual learning is the key to Ian Smith’s success. R & R Smith has been producing quality apples for 130 years, and APAL 2020 Lifetime Achievement recipient Ian Smith has been around for over half of that period.

Having taken over the reins of the orchard aged just 21 after the death of his father Ron, Ian has forged an extraordinary life and career growing apples at The Grove, in the heart of the Huon Valley.

Through contributions to research and development, and as chairman of the Australian Research and Development Committee (ARDC), as well as it’s Tasmanian equivalent, the Industry Advisory Committee (IAC),  Ian has also helped make it easier for the generations of growers from both Tasmania and Australia who follow to do the same.

As the 79-year-old explains, continuing to learn has been a passion for both he and his family.

“When I took over the orchard, I didn’t really know what I was doing. We just grew red rocks and green rocks,” he says with a laugh.

“Now we’re trying to grow quality fruit to meet consumer demands.

“We’re constantly sourcing information so that we can improve over time, and that’s been a lifestyle for me and my son, and one that we’ve really enjoyed.”

Having seen a lifetime of change, striving to learn more about his craft seems to be one of the few constants through Ian’s time in the industry, and is undoubtedly a quality that has ensured R & R Smith’s longevity in the industry.

It has helped them overcome many challenges, including the United Kingdom’s entry into the European common market in the 1970s, following which Ian became one of the first to identify and conquer the South-East Asian market.

Ian was also one of the first to adopt cool storage in the 1980s, while he, alongside son Andrew, transformed the farm into a totally organic operation in the 1990s.

“In the 50s we had a thriving market in Australia, and it was export orientated to the Northern Hemisphere.

“When that collapsed, we started selling to the markets into South-East Asia.

“After that the lower cost Southern Hemisphere markets decided they could buy the market and gradually we declined there.

“Technology was changing with the advent of cool storage, and it became possible to extend the period of marketing for an apple.

“Supermarkets want good quality fruit on their shelves for 12 months of the year. That’s a big challenge we face as an industry.”

Ian says future learnings must continue to focus on technological and mechanical based improvements.

“The bulk of industry research and development in my lifetime has been about improving growing, and horticultural skills,” he says.

“The skills of the next generation are different; they’re going to be coming from other areas.

“A lot of them are electronic; cold systems for managing cool stores; managing irrigation; managing transport.

“It is difficult to see how industry will actively promote the research and development that will have to go to these areas.”

The Smith family continues to go from strength to strength. Its 46.5ha orchard has received plenty of attention in the form of niche travel and food media over the years, while the Willie Smith’s Cider brand is among the most famous in Australia. Only a few years ago R & R Smith bought out Calvert Brothers’ orchard in Ranelagh.

After over 60 years in the orchard you’d think he might have had enough, but Ian is still involved in day to day operations and R & R Smith and is continually looking forward to the challenges ahead.

“Very proud, I’ve always liked the science side of it, started out with a blood and guts approach, and then it was about trying to make it more user friendly, and we’re doing that and I see it as an ongoing challenge for the business,” he says.

“We’re fairly comfortable where we stand at the moment.

“My family has been involved in growing apples for 130 years, I’m pretty proud of what we’ve done.

“It’s provided a nice way of life for me and my family and provided us with an opportunity for a worthwhile pursuit during our life.”

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