For Michael Graham the chance to learn from some of the best leaders in agriculture was the reason he applied for the 2020 Zanda McDonald Award.
The award is named in honour of Queensland cattle producer Zanda McDonald, who died following a fall from a windmill on his family's property near Cloncurry in 2013.
Mr McDonald was recognised as one of the most innovative and forward thinking farming leaders in the country and after his death, the Platinum Primary Producers group initiated the award.
The PPP is made up of around 150 rural industry leaders from Australia and New Zealand and Mr McDonald was one of its founders in 2005.
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The award's purpose is to mentor the primary industry leaders of the future and was first presented in 2015.
Mr Graham is the general manager of the Paraway Pastoral Company's central west division.
The company is an investment vehicle managed by the Macquarie Group.
He grew up on the family farm at Adjungbilly near Gundagai, which they still operate.
"They breed Angus cattle and also Merino ewes and fat lambs," he said,
"After school I did four years in the Northern Territory at Brunette Downs Downs owned by AACo, starting as a jackaroo and then finishing as head stockman.
"Then in 2009 I went to Marcus Oldham and studied agribusiness."
After university, Mr Graham joined Paraway, originally working in Sydney, before it moved its office to Orange.
"I did enjoy Sydney but it's good to be back in the bush," he said.
His job involves overseeing the management of five properties totaling over 127,000 hectares in the Warren, Condoblin and Coonamble areas of NSW, which in an average season runs a 6000 cow Angus breeding herd, a 25000 merino ewe flock and has 20000 hectares of cropping between them.
I'm leading a team of five managers with everything from preparation of budgets through to production strategies and I'm also proud of our approach to work, health and safety," he said.
"In essence I hold them accountable for the decisions they make on their properties and I am held accountable by our CEO."
For Mr Graham, the Zanda McDonald Award is a chance to learn about leadership from some of the best.
"The exciting thing for me is they give you a tailored mentoring program for young people in the industry and you get great exposure to some of our industry's leaders," he said.
"It's a chance to work alongside them and help grow my skills and leadership capabilities."
The six shortlisted candidates will travel to Wellington in New Zealand next week for interviews, with the three finalists announced next month, and the eventual winner announced next March.
The prize includes an impressive professional development package, a tailored industry trip across the Tasman, cash, and mentoring sessions with PPP members across Australia and New Zealand.
But at this stage Mr Graham isn't worrying about the final prize, just the steps along the way.
"Nothing is finalised as far as my wishes for the program," he said.
"The next step is to go to Wellington and I'm humbled to have that opportunity.
"There I'll meet the judges and other candidates, and if I'm lucky enough to move forward to the next round then I'll take it step-by-step."
The publisher of this masthead, Australian Community Media, is a major sponsor of the Zanda McDonald award.
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