Floods, drought force Darling Downs grain giant to fold

ICONIC Darling Downs farmer Rowell Walton is broke, with $30 million of debt driving him from the land he has worked for 31 years.

After a meeting with ANZ bank on April 11, Mr Walton was told he and his wife Debbie had 30 days to leave their family home at Yulabilla station, allowing receivers KordaMentha to take over his grain-growing operation.

His two sons, Gavin and Robert, will also need to be off the land by the end of May, after 14 years working with their father.

Mr Walton's stations - Yullabilla, Undulla, Mt Pleasant and Wyola - will all be forcibly sold in the next six months.

"As a family, it's an extraordinarily difficult thing to have to deal with," Mr Walton said.

"But there are many more (foreclosures) on the way.

"It will be something akin to a tsunami once it gets rolling."

About 10 years ago, Mr Walton was one of many local farmers to take a chance on the large loans which sucked many businesses into the Global Financial Crisis, hoping to expand his business and repay the debt around 2010.

Gavin, Rowell and Robert Walton are facing hard times following ANZ's decision to put the property into receivership.
Gavin, Rowell and Robert Walton are facing hard times following ANZ's decision to put the property into receivership. Alasdair Young

When the floods hit that year, followed by drought, he started falling behind on his repayments, compounding debt.

Though the land is greening today, it is too little too late for Mr Walton to make good on his debts.

As chairman of the national Rural Debt Roundtable, former Queensland National Party vice-president and one of the largest grain farmers in Queensland, Mr Walton lobbied passionately for a government solution to Australia's $66 billion farming debt crisis.

AgAssist consultant Rod Saal has more than 40 years experience working with farmers across south-west Queensland, and said many local farms were carrying millions of dollars in debt.

Mr Saal believed heavily indebted Condamine farmers could be at risk if their equity dropped as a result of the sale of the Waltons' holdings.

He explained that once banks began making concessions, it was standard practice to sharply raise the interest rate on debt, accelerating the debt spiral until a forced sale of the business was inevitable.

"It's a terrible thing to do to a family," he said.

"The trouble is, you need capital to keep your farming equipment up to date. This means if you miss a crop you're in real strife."



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