GLENFYNE dairy farmer Aaron Masters was just one of a handful of producers recognised at the Great South West Dairy Awards on April 26.
The farm manager of a 520-cow operation at Glenfyne picked up the employee of the year award and was praised by judges for his on-farm development efforts.
Originally from northern Victoria, Mr Masters began working as a relief milker when he only 15 years-old.
He has worked his way up from farm-hand at one of Warakirri Dairies' SA operations to farm manager at one of the company's south-west farms.
Mr Masters says he oversees and undertakes all farm activities, has made improvements to reduce stress on cows and increase efficiency, shares his experience with other workers and continues to seek ways to improve his knowledge and capability.
"It's been a huge learning curve since I took over as manager," he said.
"Having a role like this does have its benefits, because you get the experience of running a farm, but you don't have the capital expenditure."
He admitted dedication and a positive attitude played a big role in winning the employee title.
"I run the farm to the best of my ability and do the best that I can," he said.
"We've put a lot of effort into pasture and AI programs too."
A large portion of Mr Masters' training has been "on the job", but last year he completed a certificate three in agriculture.
"Training is important and I encourage all the employees here to take on extra study," he said.
"I would say to young people interested in dairying to get as qualified as you can."
While attracting and retaining staff had proved to be a huge problem in the dairy industry recently, Mr Masters said the issue was a complex one - but suggested school children needed to learn about dairying early on.
"City kids should be sponsored to come out on dairy farmers and if one out of 100 like what they see, then that is one extra person we have on our side," he said.
"And people need to realise it's not just about milking cows.
"Dairying also includes areas nutrition and agronomy - that really needs to be promoted more."
However, he acknowledged being a dairy farmer was not easy.
"You've got to love the work and it does involve early mornings and long hours,' he said.
"But for me - I get a kick out of this every day.
"What is better than working outdoors?"
In other results, Heywood farmers Stephen and Tania Luckin were awarded the title of Employer of the Year.
The couple were recognised for their attention to detail and appreciation of the needs of staff.
Judges praised the Luckins' documentation and detailed employee management practices
They are both undertaking diploma courses through the NCDEA and they encourage their staff to have ongoing involvement in deciding how things are done on the property.
Safety is a strong focus on their farm and policies.
Leighton and Karen Hart, Deans Marsh, won the share farmer award.
The judges said the Harts have a remarkable working relationship with the farm owner and are in regular communication with the owners to ensure they are doing the best for the business.
Grassmere farmer Liam Ryan was named by judges of the Natural Resource and Sustainability Management award as an outstanding winner.
Mr Ryan demonstrated high level strategic business management skills, impressive adoption of technology, innovation and commitment to sustainability.
His achievements included a 20 per cent reduction in use of fertilisers, 85 per cent reduction in energy use in the dairy and 40 per cent reduction in grain feeds.
Young Farm Leader Tom Newton was described by judges as a team player dedicated to his work and respected and trusted by others.