29 September 2021

Tangaroa Walker: redefining the dairy industry through education

Tangaroa Walker is on a one of a kind mission to bring new faces to Southland’s dairy industry, and to retain them there.

He exudes a passion for life, darting between working with cows and calves, fixing fences, talking to workers and keeping up to date with the latest developments of his Farm4Life Hub – an online dairy farming education platform launched just 14 months ago.

Composed of more than 150 modules, sections, videos and quizzes on everything from herding cows to delivering calves, the “Hub” connects new entrants to the dairy industry with industry-leading advice and experience from any device with cellular reception.

Walker is a finalist for the Southern Institute of Technology Business Personality award at the 2021 Southland Business Excellence awards.

Walker has his own personal connection to entering the dairy industry. He speaks matter-of-factly on his humble upbringing, having lived in 16 different houses tents and caravans and being adopted twice by the age of five.

At the age of 11 he was inspired by dairy farmer Ian Jeffrey, who visited his school to set up a cross-country track, to join the industry. He worked with Jeffrey from the age of 12 before moving to Southland for greener pastures at the age of 18.

By the time he was 22-years-old he was managing six staff members and running a dairy farm worth $32 million dollars. Through winning contract milking awards he entered the speaking circuit, hoping to inspire others to join the industry.

Farm 4 Life was launched after experience in the circuit made Walker realise knowledge was needed to retain people in the industry.

“Sixty per cent of our staff leave in year one, and for the ones that do stay, a huge percent leave in year two as well,” he says.

The hub has grown exponentially since inception, videos now average roughly 1.2 million views and a beta-version of an application is currently in testing, expected to be rolled out within the next three to four weeks.

“There’s some huge opportunities for young people coming in, but it can be scary when you don’t have any support or any mentors or any knowledge. That’s what the hub is about.”

Walker is unpretentious when it comes to his success, he’s fuelled by a passion to highlight the best parts of the dairy industry, even in the challenging environmental conditions Southland offers.

“Farm4Life is passion, it’s a passionate person about an industry they love, I think that’s what Farm4Life is. You can’t farm for life without being passionate about it and having good balance,” he says.

“It could have happened anywhere in Aotearoa but to do it in Southland has probably been the biggest leverage that we could have achieved, there’s nothing better than showcasing how to do things in the most challenging part of the world,” he says.

And the work hasn’t stopped yet, Walker is currently in the process of acquiring NZQA qualifications for all video content on the platform, and plans to roll out subtitles on videos in a variety of different languages, with Māori being the first. Eventually, he hopes the Farm 4 Life architecture can be used across the whole agriculture sector.

“One thing at a time though,” he laughs.

He attributes his own balance to practising gratitude, taking his son out each morning to collect fresh milk and eggs for breakfast, showcasing to the younger generation.

“When you come from nothing you expect nothing, so when things do go right there’s so many things to be happy about. Life’s so busy these days we don’t get to appreciate the things that we do.”

Walker’s work in promoting the dairy industry is more than just through educational material. He connects with both farmers and prospective entrants alike by providing raw and real conversation through regular Facebook live videos.

Since Covid-19 restrictions were put in place again in August, Walker estimates he receives roughly 60 to 70 messages a day after on the stress of being understaffed during calving season with no avenues such as regular sport or socialisation to cope with.

“I get double, sometimes triple, the response when I’m talking about mental health,” he says.

He replies to every single message. For him, being able to maintain those connections and put mental health in the forefront of conversation is imperative to maintaining the workforce.

He’s laidback in his approach to being a finalist for the Southern Institute of Technology Business Personality award, and ever-humble attributes his success to the vested interest of his team in pushing the industry forward.

“None of this would be possible without the support and understanding of my team. When I’m not out milking or with the cows and calves, I’m sitting on the lane way editing videos or creating content or filming content, and they’re supporting me,” he says.

Published by Stuff.co.nz – 29 September 2021