IT was a night to recognise and celebrate the achievements of some of the best farmers and agronomy advisors in Australia and New Zealand, but the harsh realities of rural life became a poignant background theme at this week's Growth Awards dinner in Sydney.
Tragic bushfires which ripped through cropping belt regions in the past three weeks burning about 300,000 hectares in Western Australia and 87,000 hectares in South Australia had touched several of this year's 24 finalists, including closely impacting the lives of two winners.
Organised by crop chemical and seed giant Syngenta, the Growth Awards recognise farmers and farm advisers for their productivity and farm sustainability achievements and commitment to their rural communities.
SA farm industry consultant David Heinjus, who won his community and people category, lost 95 per cent of the crops and infrastructure on his family farm to last week's blaze near Freeling, while about about 200 clients were also hit by the firestorm which swept through a wide area north of Adelaide.
Productivity category winner and WA agronomist Quenten Knight, from Esperance, dedicated his award to client Kim Curnow, the 45 year-old farmer from Scaddan who was one of four killed in the huge November 17 bushfire.
Mr Curnow was an active member of his local community and a progressive producer with a keen understanding of soil nutrition and moisture management technology.
Also among the seven Growth Award winners drawn from an original nomination list of almost 70 were NSW Liverpool Plains agronomist Greg Giblett, Quirindi; Queensland's Isis Sugar Mill sugar mill chief field officer, Paul Nicol, Childers, and head of the WA farmer research body Mingenew Irwin Group, Sheila Charlesworth.
NZ grower winners, David Birkett an intensive crop and livestock producer from Leeston on the South Island and North Island cereal and vegetable grower Bryan Hart were also at Tuesday's awards dinner.
Judging panel member and WWF Australia sustainable beef specialist Ian McConnell told the ceremony farmers consistently rated in community surveys as among the nation's most trusted professionals.
Unfortunately, however they were often reluctant to promote their "good stories" of productivity and sustainable achievement, instead being "a bit too good at talking about the negatives of farming".
"Agriculture and how we'll feed a 9 billion population are genuine issues which involve everybody - we need to tell the positive stories about good agricultural achievement which the world is crying out to hear."