The wine industry was never Stuart Dudley’s first career choice. The viticulturist for Villa Maria Wines in Marlborough had his mindset on research or forensics, having completed a degree in Genetics and Biochemistry.
He got this advice early in his career and he's now passing it on to other aspiring young farmers.
Aged only 26, Walker is a well-respected future leader, having won the inaugural Ahuwhenua Young Maori Farmer Award and the Southland Primary ITO Trainee of the Year in 2012. Entries for this year's Ahuwhenua competition closed last month.
Walker has agreed to mentor Genesis Raroa, a fellow Southlander who wants to move into farm management.
Primary ITO has facilitated the mentoring arrangement and Walker says he's looking forward to passing on his knowledge and giving Genesis moral support.
"Winning that competition fast-tracked my career by three years at least. It's opened up a lot of opportunities for me and I'm looking forward to helping someone else through the process so they can achieve their own goals."
Walker, who began milking cows at age 13, says the dairy industry needs more Maori leaders.
"My advice to any Ahuwhenua entrant is that it's our responsibility, as Maori, to take the opportunities that are out there. We need to be in a position where we can run our own farms and be good role models in business.
"The key to being successful in the dairy industry is to focus on the goals ahead. It can be a struggle moving from a farmhand, to 2IC, then into farm management. It's tough. You do a lot of work for not much money. But if you have the goal of becoming a contract milker or sharemilker and keep focussed on that, you will get there."
Walker was offered his dream contract milking job within a week of winning the Ahuwhenua award. This has opened many other doors for him – invitations to speak at schools and on farms and to take part in industry organisations.
"Entering Ahuwhenua opened my eyes. I got to meet so many inspiring successful Maori, a lot of whom I'm still in touch with and working with today. I felt very comfortable throughout the Ahuwhenua interview. I felt like I could deliver the information to the judges and no-one was looking down on me."
Walker was recently invited to a KPMG forum for future leaders in the primary sector where participants were asked to develop a vision for 2025. He is also a member of Primary ITO's dairy industry partnership group helping to shape the future of the industry.
"Plus I'm a member of Venture Southland's youth taskforce to try to encourage more youngsters to enter the dairy industry."
Walker believes pushing himself and standing out is the key to getting ahead. And he has more goals.
"I try to keep it humble. I don't think of myself as a role model yet. I'm looking forward to sitting down with Genesis to help him work out his goals, and to pass on some tips about the Ahuwhenua interview process to help him on his way."