SA's farming sector can be thankful a brief stint at Mawson Lakes Institute of Technology after school was not enough to inspire Michael Richards to pursue a career in industrial chemistry, with the Yorke Peninsula local instead choosing to dedicate his life to agriculture.
Growing up on a cropping sharefarm south-east of Minlaton, Mr Richards said while he was pleased he dipped his toe in other career options, he always knew he wanted to be a farmer, and immersed himself in agriculture after returning to the farm in 1974.
Two decades later, Mr Richards became interested in no-till methods, and after becoming involved in the Minlaton Ag Bureau, forged a relationship with some WA farmers who were looking to adopt the strategy.
"They worked a lot in sandy soils over there and were doing some quite radical stuff," he said.
"Through that we got involved in no-till.
"A few people had been trying it in SA for two or three years beforehand, but it was still early stages."
After helping run a field day showcasing machinery modified for no-till systems, Mr Richards assisted with starting the South Australian No-Till Farmers Association, which he was secretary of for two years.
Following the success of SANTFA, Mr Richards was inspired to form the Yorke Peninsula Alkaline Soils Group in 1999, which aimed to deliver information tailored to the region.
In an environment with high soil calcium content, high snail numbers, shallow soils and many emerging plant diseases, Mr Richards said providing advice specific to the YP was important.
"There were a lot of local issues and a lot of generic information, and a lot of questions. People wanted independent and local information," he said.
"We planned to have 80 members in three years, and within two weeks of launching group membership we had 150 members. There were really high expectations, and people went for it."
Herbicide use and snail management were highlights from Mr Richards' time with the YPASG, where he was chair as a result of being "the last person to say no".
I'm probably biased, but as a culture I think South Australians are excellent at helping each other.
The positive impact of YPASG inspired Mr Richards to start Ag Excellence in the early 2000s, with the aims of addressing gaps in knowledge and uniting grower groups across the state.
Mr Richards said he had a passion for lifelong learning and innovative practices, and he was grateful for the eagerness of others to get involved in projects and work together.
"Sharing knowledge is more than a country value, it's a community value," he said.
"I'm probably biased, but as a culture I think South Australians are excellent at helping each other."
AWARD COMMENDS LIFELONG DEDICATION
Michael Richards said he had always prided himself on flying under the radar, until he received the Ag Excellence Perpetual Award at an awards ceremony last month.
The award, which recognised outstanding service in the agricultural industry, acknowledged Mr Richards' substantial and long-lasting contribution to sustainable agriculture and natural resources in SA.
"I felt like a stunned mullet (when I received it)," he said.
Mr Richards said he felt privileged to work with many "exceptionally talented" people during his career, saying many projects he had been a part of were group efforts.
"It wasn't me the evangelist, it was me a member of a team," he said.
"Sometimes I was just the one who got fired up."
Related reading: Lameroo no-till trailblazer recognised