EAST LANSING, Mich. — Operating a farm business brings farmer-operators into a number of important relationships with lenders, creditors, government agencies and regulators. Sometimes these relationships result in misunderstandings and problems that become real obstacles to success.
Agricultural mediation offers an alternative to the formal appeals process to reach a mutually acceptable agreement between the parties in conflict. Michigan State University Extension educators are generally knowledgeable about many issues that may result in these types of conflict, but specially trained mediators are much better equipped to provide the help needed.
The Michigan Agricultural Mediation Program has been providing mediations services for agricultural and rural disputes for over 20 years, with many successful outcomes. If mediation is not successful, a person may still file an appeal or seek other legal remedies.
The mediation process is strictly voluntary. A well-trained mediator facilitates the process, allowing both sides to explain their position and offer their views about a successful resolution. The mediator is not a judge and does not act as an advocate for either side. The mediator will not decide who is at fault or how the issue should be settled. In more complicated situations, a mediation assistant may be assigned to help the farmer or other person prepare for the process. In some cases, impartial experts can be brought in to provide technical information needed to reach agreement. They serve in a neutral role.
When the mediation process is successful, mediators help the parties agree on a workable solution, then prepare and sign a written agreement.
The benefits of agricultural mediation are outlined in the Michigan Agricultural Mediation Program brochure as follows:
- Participants control the outcome. The people involved in the situation are the ones who create an agreement that works for them.
- Mediation is confidential. The parties can speak openly and directly to each other and to the issues without the proceedings being a matter of public record.
- Mediation can preserve relationships. Mediation can help build a framework for future interaction based upon mutual interests and needs rather than adversarial positions.
- Mediation is flexible and creative. Mediation can be used to discuss creative and individualized solutions so long as they are not contrary to the law.
- Mediation is quick. Disputes are normally resolved within a matter of weeks, allowing the parties to maintain schedules and lines of credit.
- Mediation saves money. Mediation provides a low-cost alternative to litigation. Under the Michigan Agricultural Mediation Program, mediation services are free of charge.
- Mediation is likely to be successful. In the majority of disputes taken to mediation parties reach an agreement.
It is easy to submit a request for mediation to the Michigan Agricultural Mediation Program. When you do, a Michigan Agricultural Mediation Program representative will contact you to explain the process, then send the request for mediation to the other party and inform you whether they accept or not. If accepted, Michigan Agricultural Mediation Program will schedule a mediation session at a convenient time and place, usually within 45 days of the initial request. There is no charge to the parties for agricultural mediation services.
— Jim Isleib, Michigan State University Extension
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