MORETOWN, Vt. — The Agricultural Mediation Programs in Vermont and New Hampshire recently expanded the list of approved issues that qualify for free mediation to include easements, contracts, and labor issues.
“Farmers and other agricultural businesses in these situations find themselves in disputes with landowners, employees, or other entities,” Vermont Agricultural Mediation Program (VTAMP) Director, Matt Strassberg said. “Both sides often try everything to fix the problem on their own but aren’t able to make the progress they hoped for.”
Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process where an impartial person (mediator) helps parties resolve their differences and negotiate agreements. The programs are supported by the USDA and the departments of agriculture in each state.
“It is important that we do all we can to encourage agricultural success in our state,” New Hampshire Commissioner of Agriculture Shawn Jasper said. “I have seen firsthand how effective mediation can be in resolving difficult disputes. One thing about mediating these types of disputes is there are no losers.”
Recent data from the organizations show success rates of over 80% when mediation is tried before resorting to arbitration, litigation, or some other dispute resolution method.
“Farming is a round-the-clock demanding job. By nature, farmers are highly resourceful and skilled at solving problems. Yet we’re seeing an increase in complex disputes that leave farmers feeling stretched thin,” Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts said. “This service is a lifeline that helps farmers get back to doing what they love.”
Ron Sweet, a Vermont dairy farmer, says VTAMP has saved him time and money.
“Running a dairy farm is no easy task, and the business side of it is filled with pitfalls that can be overwhelming. When I have contract and labor issues, I turn to the ag mediation program,” Sweet said. “They can help farmers navigate difficult dealings and business relationships that can result in a fair settlement for all parties. The mediation program has helped me resolve numerous issues that were taking up way too much of my time.”
Agricultural mediation programs like VTAMP and NHAMP exist in states across the U.S. and are certified and funded through grants from the USDA. The program was created to help farmers, lenders, creditors, and the USDA resolve issues informally and without the transaction costs associated with the legal system.
Sarah Isham, Director of Agricultural Lending at Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA), has participated in mediations with VTAMP surrounding credit issues.
“As the cost of goods continues to rise, margins are challenging for farmers,” Isham said. “VTAMP is a resource to work out installment payment plans between farmers and feed dealers, equipment dealers, and other vendors or businesses.”
VTAMP and NHAMP offer on-site mediation sessions and teleconferencing sessions so that everyone has access to this service no matter where they live.
The complete list of agricultural issues eligible for free mediation includes contracts, credit counseling, crop insurance, debt issues, environmental compliance, easement issues, farm loans, family farm transitions, farmer-neighbor disputes, labor issues, land and equipment leases, organic certification, pesticide issues, USDA farm and conservation programs, USDA rural development loans, and wetlands determinations.
For more information or to sign up for free mediation in Vermont or New Hampshire, visit www.EMCenter.org where you can fill out an online request form. Or contact Matt Strassberg at (802) 583-1100 ext. 101.
About VTAMP and NHAMP:
VTAMP and NHAMP are programs of the Environmental Mediation Center (EMC), a non-profit organization that designs and administers environmental and agricultural dispute resolution programs. VTAMP and NHAMP provide free mediation services to the agricultural community in Vermont and New Hampshire on various issues, including farm loans, credit issues, farmer/neighbor conflicts, leases, USDA conservation programs, organic certification, wetlands determinations, family farm transitions, and many more.
–Matt Strassberg, Vermont Agricultural Mediation Program