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New Farm Bill = New Options for Mediation

by Emcenter.org


Posted on Tuesday April 30, 2019, 12:14 pm



Mediation services now include farm leases, family transitions, farmer-neighbor conflicts, and organic certification

Congress has breathed new life into a thirty-year-old program that helps farmers resolve disputes outside of a courtroom. Born out of a Crisis

To address impacts of the financial crisis of the late 1980s, Congress passed the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987, which authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to help states develop certified mediation programs to assist producers with debt and certain regulatory issues.

Before the 2018 amendments, most mediations involved credit cases: helping farmers resolve disputes with creditors or vendors; working to develop payment plans; or addressing outstanding debts to qualify for a state or federal loan. But the list of “covered” cases, where mediation services are provided at no cost to the participants, has always been broader, including:

• Farm credit
• Farm loans
• Crop insurance
• Pesticides
• Wetland determinations
• Adverse USDA decisions

Starting with just a handful of states, the demand for the program grew and 41 states now have certified programs and rosters of trained mediators ready to help. But as farmers faced new challenges, the mediation programs weren’t able to adapt, even as shifts in agriculture produced new challenges. Until now.

What’s new?
• Leases: With the high cost of land, many farmers grow crops on land they don’t own. Farmers may lease rather than purchase large pieces of equipment. With the update to the Farm Bill, mediators can now work with the farmers, landowners, and equipment dealers at no cost to the participants.

•Family transitions: The average age of farmers in 2014 was 58 years old. Transitioning to the next generation can pose challenges. Trained mediators can help family members address unspoken conflicts to plan for the future.

• Farmer-neighbor disagreements: As urban development spreads into rural areas, conflict is inevitable. Neighbors may object to the noise, dust, and smell of livestock production or have issues with the use of pesticides. Neutral mediators can help break the impasse and focus discussions on solutions that can work for everyone.

• Credit counseling: Mediators can now work directly with farmers to review their overall credit situation.

• Organic certification: Obtaining or maintaining certification under the USDA organic certification program can be critical to market sales. Our mediators can help address bottlenecks at no cost to the producer. • State flexibility: Each state has unique opportunities and challenges. The 2018 Farm Bill authorizes the lead official for the state’s department of agriculture to designate additional issues that can be covered under its state-certified program. This flexible approach can help tailor mediation programs to meet the needs of its agricultural communities.

Why Use Agricultural Mediation?
• Farming is a challenging business. Unpredictable weather, crop pests, and market shifts can wreak havoc with a farm’s bottom line or cash flow. Farmers may not be comfortable negotiating a payment plan or talking to a creditor. Neighbors might not understand the challenges farmers face. Family dynamics can make talking about finances or the future of the farm difficult. In some cases, credit counseling may be needed to help parties work together.

• Ag Mediation fills a gap and it works. Approximately 75% of requested mediations result in a settlement – an agreement reached by the parties to the mediation. Mediation works because a trained professional helps parties clarify the issues, guides the discussion to identify possible solutions, and helps develop a workable plan.

• Mediations are voluntary and confidential. Unresolved conflicts can end up in court, result in loss of farm property, and cause loan denials. Mediation puts the farmer in the driver’s seat. Even where formal agreements aren’t possible, participants often gain a better understanding of the issues and possible paths forward. Information shared during mediation remains confidential. Where can I get more information? Requesting mediation is easy and consultations are also free. For more information about mediation, visit www.emcenter.org.