A Letter of Adverse Determination from USDA is never fun to receive, but if you can’t quickly resolve the issue and don’t want it to become adversarial, you may want to consider the Michigan Agricultural Mediation Program (MAMP).
“There is a high satisfaction rate of the farmers who participate in this type of mediation,” said John Durling, MAMP outreach coordinator in Lansing.
Mediation is not a long process. “Issues are generally resolved in one meeting,” Durling said. Farmers don’t have to get a lawyer. Mediation also maintains a good relationship with the agency, which is important because of the number of USDA programs.
The Agricultural Mediation Program is a USDA program with state grants administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). FSA passes the funds through to third parties to arrange the mediation. This helps maintain objectivity.
In some states, the third party is the state department of agriculture or the Extension service. In Michigan, the MAMP is co-located with Dispute Resolution Education Resources, Inc. This is a non-profit that mediates issues between schools and the parents of special needs children.
The USDA Agricultural Mediation Program is small. The MAMP has two, part-time, contract workers. “We have an attorney who does the intakes and identifies cases that have the potential for mediation,” Durling said. “I do outreach and communicate with growers about the program’s availability.”
The attorney also organizes the meeting with the farmer, USDA agency and a trained mediator.
Many of the mediators are attorneys who do the work pro-bono (for free). The mediators have specialized training for agricultural mediation. Trained mediators are available across the state.
The meetings are not in the local USDA office and are held at a neutral location like a public library. The mediator asks the parties to define the issues and suggest solutions. The mediator ensures all participants have the opportunity to be heard. The farmer and the agency determine which solutions are acceptable within the law.
“Mediation doesn’t change the rules,” Durling said. If the contract for cost-sharing says the filter strips must be 75 feet wide, they must be 75 feet.
The issues eligible for mediation must be between the farmer and a USDA agency—FSA, Natural Resources Conservation Service or USDA Rural Development. Issues between the farmer and a lender are also eligible for mediation. Right-To-Farm issues are not.
MAMP brochures are available at USDA offices and are generally included with Letters of Adverse Determination. Farmers interested in mediation can also call the MAMP office at 1-800-616-7863 or at [email protected]
The number of mediations in Michigan is small. MAMP processes about 20 per year. But the process is free, confidential and an option to consider.