Whether you are struggling with a disagreement on the farm, faced with having a tough conversation with your lender or just need help resolving a farm-related issue, mediation through the Farm Mediation and Arbitration Program can help resolve those issues in a manner fair to all parties.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a voluntary process in which a trained professional, referred to as a mediator, assists individuals by providing a “safe" environment to discuss problems and potential options available to resolve those problems. This encourages the development of trust and cooperation between parties by maintaining a safe, respectful environment and allows the parties involved to work toward meeting their individual goals in a manner that is confidential, informal, cost effective and flexible.
Who are mediators and what do they do?
Mediators are responsible for guiding and facilitating a resolution between multiple parties, but have no authority to make decision for the parties involved and remain neutral in the process as they are not an advocate for any parties.
How does it work?
The first stage of mediation provides each party with an opportunity to present an opening statement to explain the problem from his or her perspective. Each party is given an opportunity to make this statement without interruptions by other parties. After this initial stage, the mediator assists the parties in identifying and clarifying each problem area and will help all parties redefine and restate the issues in a non-competitive, non-adversarial way.
After the issues have been redefined, the mediator will assist all parties in working towards a resolution by identifying potential options for resolving these issues and exploring the strengths and weaknesses of each option with all parties. As options are discussed, the mediator will help facilitate negotiations by keeping the lines of communication open and all parties focused on the task at hand.
Once an agreement is reached, a written document is created to confirm the details of the agreement and all parties are asked to review and sign the document. At this point, the agreement becomes a binding contract between the parties. If an agreement is not reached, the case proceeds to court or is conclude without resolution. It is possible that mediation can move to arbitration if the parties agree to take such action.
How long does mediation take? Where do meetings take place?
Mediation may be completed in one session or it may take multiple sessions depending upon the situation. Sessions are held in a setting that is as neutral as possible for all parties in order to allow each party a balanced opportunity to participate in problem solving. Negotiations between parties may involve face-to-face negotiations in a join session or may involve the use of a separate caucus, where parties are physically separated and the mediator goes between the parties. While it is preferred to have meetings in person, the meetings also may take place over the phone or online.
What issues may be mediated?
Issued handled through mediation include, but are not limited to:
- Creditor/debtor issues
- Government program disputes
- Seed or feed dealers
- Landlord and tenant issues
- Contracts with food processors
- Conflicts within farm families
- Conflicts with farm neighbor
Do I need an attorney?
Mediation is not a substitute for independent legal advice. All participants are encouraged to review preliminary agreements with counsel to understand legal ramifications, including possible tax consequences. It is not anticipated that attorneys will be present during actual mediation sessions unless requested by both parties.
What is arbitration?
Arbitration is more like a court process, with a neutral arbitrator selected by the parties making the final decision to resolve the problem. It is a confidential procedure in which the parties must agree to participate. If parties choose to arbitrate a dispute, the arbitrator's decision is a final decision, which will be upheld by the courts if challenged.