Receivers move in to Narrogin feedlot

Receivers move in to Narrogin feedlot


Agribusiness
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IT'S been almost nine years since Matt and Janet Thompson moved to Australia with a dream of establishing a 10,000 head capacity cattle feedlot.

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Narrogin beef producers Janet and Matt Thompson in happier times. They have been told they must be out of their house by October 15.

Narrogin beef producers Janet and Matt Thompson in happier times. They have been told they must be out of their house by October 15.

IT'S been almost nine years since Matt and Janet Thompson moved to Australia with a dream of establishing a 10,000 head capacity cattle feedlot.

They managed to achieve their dream and created Narrogin Beef Producers, but this week administrators Ferrier Hodgson moved in with trucks and began dismantling and removing infrastructure from the Thompson's property.

On September 17, the Thompsons were served with papers from the National Australia Bank (NAB) giving them four days to pay the entire balance of their loans.

Following their failure to do so, on September 21, Ferrier Hodgson was appointed by NAB as administrators and receivers of Narrogin Beef Producers and the Thompsons' properties.

Mr Thompson said the whole situation was heartbreaking for the family, but even when things look to be finished, they remained positive that a solution may still be achieved.

"I can't believe that a solution wouldn't be worked out, but there are obviously some things going on behind the scenes that I don't understand," Mr Thompson said.

"I'm in disbelief that NAB is proceeding despite this political pressure."

Mr Thompson said they had also received a letter which said they would have to vacate their house by October 15, but they planned to fight the order.

He said they thought they had legal grounds to fight NAB, as there were several problems with the way the bank had handled their case, including a conflict of interest with the appointment of Ferrier Hodgson.

"I think it's possible that we may refuse to leave at this stage," he said.

"Lots of politicians are trying to help and they have asked for a meeting with NAB, but they have ordered the administrators to proceed and start taking equipment off site starting Tuesday morning.

"It seems a bit senseless for that to start already."

Ferrier Hodgson Perth partner Darren Weaver confirmed that the company had been appointed as administrators and receivers, which covered all assets of the Thompson's company.

Mr Weaver said the process was still in its early stages, but they were seeking submissions on the best way to market the assets and were currently securing equipment from the property.

Mr Weaver said they were attempting to talk to the Thompsons regarding vacating the house, but the details of such discussions were commercially sensitive.

The Thompson's feedlot started feeding cattle in 2003 and had been granted approval to build a 15,000 head feedlot, feeding 10,000 head of cattle at their peak.

In April 2008, the DEC changed their license conditions, reducing the number of cattle the Thompsons could feed from 10,000 to 6000 in what it claimed was necessary action to overcome odour and waste management issues.

The Thompsons appealed the DEC ruling and in January 2009 Environment Minister Donna Faragher in part ruled in their favour, citing that subject to the satisfactory finalisation and implementation of a waste management plan and validation of improvements in odour and management, their capacity could once again be increased to 10,000 head of cattle.

But the damage had been done and failure to secure a bridge loan with NAB saw the Thompson's property go up for auction in October 2009, but no bids were received, a fact the Thompsons believe was due to the ambiguity still surrounding their license.

Mr Thompson said they had been appealing and fighting ever since, as well as trying to secure outside financial backing, but in December 2009, the last of their cattle left the property.

"It was a good, very viable business but they restricted us which caused us to lose a tremendous amount of money," he said.

"No one was willing to finance or invest more money because of the uncertainty of the license."

After a ministerial ruling on their license was handed down in in July by Ms Faragher, Mr Thompson said they began preparing their case against that ruling, which they believed was faulty and sought to have it quashed in the Supreme Court.

"Now the administrators believe they are entitled to the damages from that case," Mr Thompson said.

"It's just a nightmare.

"We believe the bank is entitled to full payment of their debt but they've obviously got a pre-arranged buyer. If the DEC is found to be in the wrong then the new buyer waiting in the wings hasn't been damaged by this, they benefited from it."

The plight of the Thompsons has been receiving international attention, mainly through the internet with several popular bloggers sharing their story with the world.

Many messages of support have also been posted on the Farm Weekly website and Mr Thompson said the level of support had been overwhelming.

People have also been donating money into an account for the Thompson's four children, to ensure they are well looked after.

"It's been heartwarming for us the amount of support we've received, there are so many good people out there trying to help and we really appreciate that," he said.

"We'd love to just get on with it, but we can't, we owe a lot of people money, not just the banks.

"We don't feel that we've been given a fair go by the DEC.

"We always attempted to do everything right, the Government should have to prove that we've done something wrong, if not, they should have to allow us to operate at that 15,000 head capacity, or compensate us."

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