Evicted Taranaki farmer vows to fight

NO SURRENDER: Evicted farmer Kelvin Gray says he will fight to the bitter end to get his farm back.
NO SURRENDER: Evicted farmer Kelvin Gray says he will fight to the bitter end to get his farm back.

As Kelvin Gray was driven off the Okato farm his family had worked for seven generations, his wife, Linda, wondered if she would see him alive again.

Mr Gray refused to leave his property voluntarily when receivers moved in on Tuesday morning to recover $5.6 million in debt to Rabobank. He was subsequently arrested by police and spent at least two hours in a police cell in New Plymouth.

"When Kelvin went off the farm, I thought he was going to kill himself. I didn't know what he was going to do," Mrs Gray said yesterday.

Neither did she know what to do, locking herself in her home's office as receivers, police and security guards rolled down her driveway.

"It was just a swarm of people coming in, taking all the machinery, taking the trucks, taking the stock. They're walking around taking the keys from our cars. It feels like you've been raped," she said.

Mr Gray said his experience at the hands of the receivers had only hardened his determination to fight to the bitter end to get his farm back.

"When I was in the cell I was actually quite relaxed. There was nothing I could do. All it does is make me more resolved to do more things to expose what banks are doing to farmers. I will fight them all they way. The public needs to know what is going on," he said.

The case hit the national news hours after receivers moved in when TV3 reporter Melanie Reid and rural debt mediator Janette Walker told police they had been assaulted by a security guard on the farm.

NZ First primary industries spokesman Richard Prosser said the case highlighted the need for Parliament to consider introducing a Farm Debt Mediation Bill.

"Evicting farmers from their properties in the middle of a drought crisis is unreasonably harsh and very probably unnecessary," he said.

Kelvin Gray's son Andrew Gray, a sharemilker, has now alleged his property has been caught in the receivers net, with a large number of dairy stock belonging to him removed and 11 of his bobby calves shot by receiver Graham Tapp.

"He said to me he couldn't find a place for these calves. He went and shot them. They were my calves," Mr Gray said.

Principal receiver Dennis Wood said as far as receivers were concerned, the bobby calves belonged to secured creditors.

Their slaughter was carried out by a pet food company, not Mr Tapp. "I can tell you 11 were shot today. They were destined for the works. Andrew knew they were going to the works and had made provision. They had no value," he said.

Mr Wood said Ms Reid and Ms Walker had been told to stay off the property and their actions were an "abuse of their positions".

Ms Walker, who is helping the Grays to try to get back on the Hampton Rd property, said she was sick of people laying 100 per cent of the blame for such situations on farmers.

"This is about banks portraying themselves as agribusiness partners when they aren't. They did a lot of stupid lending from 2005 to 2008 and now farmers are paying for it," she said.

She said the Grays had paid more than $900,000 extra in interest payments during the past five years because their debt was deemed high risk.

Compared to other farmers she had worked with, their debt was quite small but they were being targeted because they had a high amount of equity in their farm, she said.

Taranaki Daily News