Janette Walker's farm was soaring in value and the bank was happy to lend - then everything changed.

Janette Walker has always been the type of person who relishes a challenge.

It was, after all, her feisty nature and can-do spirit that prompted her to give up nursing two decades ago to try to make a living from the land.

"I bought a small block of land like everybody did in the 1980s," she recalls. "I dabbled in it for a while, then I decided to go into it fulltime in 1990."

Walker stuck with the rural lifestyle even when her marriage fell apart and she was left to raise 1500 calves a year, as well as her young children. She eventually managed to trade her way up from a 4ha block to an 810ha development farm in the tough hill country of the southern Wairarapa.

Later this month, however, she expects to lose everything she has worked so hard for over the past 20 years. Her bank, she claims, has forced her to put her latest farm up for sale.

"At the same time they said I had to put it up for tender, they served me with a Property Law Act notice - the threat being that: 'If you don't do it, we will start mortgagee proceedings'."

She did her homework before buying the land at Pongaroa. The bank supported her strategy, particularly as she was able to provide a 70 per cent deposit. What neither she nor the bank counted on, though, were three consecutive years of devastating drought.

Walker says her bank was initially unconcerned, noting that she still had plenty of equity. But that was only because, according to the bank, the farm's value had risen substantially.

"In 07 they valued the farm at $3.1 million, and in 08 they valued it at $4.2 million. At the time, I told the bank manager he had rocks in his head. But what do you do when you're sitting there trying to work out a way of keeping your business afloat?"

In April 2008, the bank's attitude suddenly changed, she says. "I saw them at the end of February 08 and they actually encouraged me to purchase more stock. Six weeks later I was told my farm wasn't viable and I needed to think about what I was going to do in the future."

Walker blames the change on pessimistic forecasts from Fonterra - which never came to pass - and new Reserve Bank requirements for banks to hold more money in reserve.

"The panic from middle managers and regional managers was massive, because they had done some reckless lending," she suggests.

Like many farmers in a similar situation, she believes her bank simply should have waited for things to improve. Despite her low returns it was only recently, she claims, that she was no longer able to meet her mortgage payments, and only because another company she deals with went into receivership and didn't pay her for six months.

She is convinced the banks deliberately take difficult cases away from their local managers, to ensure personal feelings don't get in the way. "Once it started getting done centrally, the viciousness certainly got ramped up, right from the first phone call."

And she struggles to understand how slashing someone's overdraft, requiring them to sell income-producing assets, and increasing the interest rates on their loans - all standard methods used by banks to deal with struggling businesses - helps to get people out of financial strife.

It also puzzles her why banks would force the sale of farms at greatly deflated prices.

"If my farm sells below 50 per cent of GV that will inevitably affect everyone else in the district and they will also lose 50 per cent very quickly, so that will push an awful lot more farmers into negative equity. The only upside for the banks that I can see is they get a certain number of people off their books to improve their impaired loans, so they can square up their capital adequacy ratios."

Literally adding injury to insult, Walker broke her leg late last year and has had to hire a farm manager while she recuperates. Fortunately, she had income protection insurance.

Nevertheless, she is aware of far more tragic tales. She claims to know of other farmers who have committed suicide.

While such anecdotal reports may be exaggerated, those involved in rural support networks agree there is much more openness in rural communities these days about the kinds of stress that many farming families are under.

Last year Walker spent several days organising help for a farmer who phoned to tell her he was at the end of his tether, and was sitting in his kitchen with a gun. And just a few weeks ago she helped support another farmer who was forced off his farm despite the fact that his wife was recovering from chemotherapy for a brain tumour.

"People say: 'Why do farmers deserve special treatment?' But it is different, because some farmers are actually losing land that has been built up by four generations of their own family. And you're not just losing social contact - you're losing your job, and your home. A lot of these guys are in their 50s to 70s, and those guys don't have any other skills they can use. It's not like they can put a shirt and tie on and go and get another job."

The Business has spoken to six other farmers with similar stories to Walker's. All insist they are up to date with their payments, but are still being pressured to sell. Unlike Walker, none is willing to be named, for fear of retaliation from their banks.

One claims his bank forced him to sell an investment property, then promptly increased his interest payments by exactly the same amount he had been getting from the property. Another was flabbergasted when he and his wife were interrogated about a local murder. The farmer is convinced the police were given his name as part of an increasingly bitter battle with his bank over his situation.

Despite her present woes, Walker doesn't regret going farming.

"I'm just disappointed really that the profitability has been eroded so much over the last few years with increased costs and all that sort of stuff. You work too hard to work for nothing, really. Of course I know some guys who are doing really well. But they've got land that can finish stock and they can put in crops and they can do things ..."

Contrary to popular belief, many dairy farmers are also struggling, she insists.

"They'll just be so pleased they're getting a reasonable payout because, quite frankly, if it was a payout of around $5 to $6, they'd be totally to the wall. They've just got so many costs to carry over from droughts and so on from the past two years, and a lot of dairy farmers are under a lot of bank pressure."

As for her own future, her willingness to speak out has prompted queries about whether she'd consider politics.

"I don't know about that. But I think about [my future] quite a lot actually. I don't want to go nursing again. I do like farming, and I probably will be involved in farming in one way or another."