Australian Dairy Farmers awarded its inaugural life memberships to former president Pat Rowley and former chief executive officer John McQueen at its 75th-anniversary celebrations in Melbourne on Thursday night.
ADF president Terry Richardson said the dairy industry was fortunate to have outstanding men and women who had shown leadership, dedication, commitment and outstanding service.
"The individuals nominated have gone above and beyond for the dairy industry," he said.
Mr Rowley was recognised for his 40 years involvement in the industry as a leader of numerous organisations and in helping the industry manage through massive changes from the 1970s through to the mid-2000s.
"This is a big surprise," Mr Rowley said.
Watch the announcement of the awards:
Mr McQueen was recognised for his work in helping establish the Australian genetic evaluation system and his work in representing the industry nationally and internationally.
He said the award was a "humbling experience" and that ADF and the dairy industry had been really good to him.
Earlier in the evening, the pair spoke about the history of the organisation, particularly in the critical period from the 1970s through to deregulation in 2000 and the formation of Dairy Australia in 2003.
Mr Rowley said it was vital during the negotiations to have all the key parties involved and to speak to the right people.
He urged today's leaders to "make sure that everyone is in the camp" - including processors and marketers - to work out solutions to the industry's problems.
Meetings were "tough and rough" but were vital to ensure consensus was achieved.
Mr McQueen said the industry made a key decision in the 1980s to seek additional research and development levy funds to establish the Australian Dairy Herd Improvement Scheme and support other farm research.
"The decisions in the late 70s and early 80s to expand and grow and to improve our productivity were the right decisions," he said.
Mr Richardson said the Australian Dairy Farmers' Federation has been formed in 1942.
Minutes from an early meeting revealed concerns about the low prices for dairy products.
"The ADFF urges the federal government to take immediate action to place the dairy industry on a price basis commensurate with skill and labour involved in the production of dairy produce, and further urges the immediate attention of the main manpower authorities to the parlous state of the industry due to drain of labour on dairyfarming," Mr Richardson quoted from the minutes.
"So who said anything had changed.
"What farmers of ADFF wanted 75 years ago can still be considered as guiding principles for ADF today."
Watch David Inall, Pat Rowley and John McQueen on how the Australian dairy industry was transformed in the 1980s-1990s:
Mr Richardson said although fierce competition across different parts of the value chain had always been a feature of the Australian industry, "the success I believe can be attributed to the strong collaboration that occurred ... when required.
"Dairyfarmers and the industry have demonstrated that collaboration, co-operation and consensus are the foundations and building blocks of long-term success."
ADF would continue to work alongside the value chain and government to collaboratively grow the industry.
ADF's new CEO David Inall told the gathering that ADF was the oldest national farmer organisation in Australia.
"I am excited to be part of the next chapter for the organisation," he said.
Mr Inall said the organisation would be taking a slightly different approach, spending more time in Canberra to develop better relationships with politicians.
"We are not always going to get along but what I can assure everybody is if we disagree, it is going to be with respect and it is going to be practical and it is going to be responsible," he said.
At time government and processors needed to be partners.
"Too many organisations and industries feel like the government is the enemy and processors are the enemy," he said.
"We are not taking that approach."
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