The New Hampshire Agricultural Mediation Program (NHAMP) is the official United States Department of Agriculture certified agricultural mediation program for New Hampshire. NHAMP provides free mediation services to the agricultural community to help resolve disputes before they end up in court. For background information about mediation, click here.
The New Hampshire Agricultural Mediation Program offers producers, lenders and others in the agricultural community the opportunity to resolve disputes in a non-adversarial manner, which may also save the parties time and money. The mediation program’s services are free of charge. Contact Matt Strassberg to learn more about how the program can assist with resolving a wide range of agricultural conflicts or disputes. —Lorraine Merrill, Commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food
USDA farm and conservation programs often have complicated requirements that can include significant penalties for non-compliance. Farm or environmental conditions can change, making it difficult to meet planned objectives. Misunderstandings can arise about initial expectations or whether expectations have been met. Mediation can facilitate communication, help parties better understand each other’s perspectives, and resolve underlying issues. Mediation helps the farmer maintain control over final decision making.
Farm loans can provide crucial funding for farm ownership and operating expenses. Loan sources can include the USDA Farm Service Agency, Farm Credit banks, private banks, or even a friend or family member. If repayments have become a problem or changes are needed to the loan’s terms, a neutral mediator can help with loan modifications and repayments. Working with a mediator may also help address possible foreclosures.
USDA Rural Development loans also offer home ownership opportunities to low- and moderate-income rural Americans. When problems arise, mediators can help parties reach agreement on loan denials, modifications, and repayment plans.
Farm-related credit and debt issues can arise with feed or equipment dealers and credit card companies. Mediation can help work out lump-sum or monthly installment payment plans or other arrangements.
Leases are important options for long term access to farmland, or for equipment use, but parties may differ in how they interpret the terms after the lease is executed. Conditions may have changed, or one side may be perceived as not living up to the bargain. Mediation can help parties negotiate the terms of new land and equipment leases and resolve conflicts with existing leases.
Decisions about the long term future of a family farm can be financially and emotionally challenging. A neutral mediator can help farm families clarify changing roles and responsibilities, agree on financial terms, and navigate difficult conversations that often are part of family farm transitions.
Disputes related to noises, odors, pesticide application or other issues can cause friction with nearby property owners. Mediation can help parties craft solutions to address concerns that arise from farming operations.
Disagreements about organic certification or de-certification can have major impacts on market access. Mediation can help organic farmers and certifying agents focus on areas of contention to develop mutually agreeable solutions.
Wetlands determinations can limit options for use of the land. If a farmer disagrees with a wetlands determination, mediation can be a useful process to bring experts into the process to ensure both sides agree on delineation of the wetland.
Pesticide use is heavily regulated and can be contentious. Mediation can help parties address issues concerning pesticide application, enforcement, drift, buffers, and other issues.
Crop damage due to pests or weather can be devastating, but crop insurance doesn’t always provide the relief expected by a farmer. Mediation can help farmers and insurance companies work out damage claims on USDA Risk Management Agency insurance policies.
When finances are tight, farmers must make critical decisions about paying back farm loans, credit card companies, and lessors, while still meeting basic living expenses. Credit counseling can help farmers get an overview of their financial situation, including cash flow requirements, and develop a plan to work with creditors in order to maintain farm operations.
Conservation easements are used to permanently limit uses of the land to protect conservation values. Such easements may provide significant benefits. Whether a farmer is negotiating the terms of a new easement or has an issue with an existing easement, mediation can help parties work out mutually acceptable solutions.
Environmental compliance issues can involve complicated factual and legal issues. Mediation can facilitate communication, help parties reach agreement on the relevant facts and law, and develop solutions that avoid protracted legal proceedings.
NHAMP provides free mediation services to the agricultural community in New Hampshire on the issues listed above. For other agricultural issues, NHAMP will provide the mediation services free of charge when other funding sources are available. In some cases, NHAMP may ask parties to pay based on a sliding scale.
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Mediation is often used as an alternate method of conflict resolution. Mediators are looked upon as
We have created a video that includes information about mediation and a mock mediation session. To view the video visit the New Hampshire or Vermont program page.
Mediation sessions begin with a joint session with all participants present. The purpose of the joint session is to define the issues and ascertain the interests and concerns of all parties. The mediator begins by welcoming the participants, explaining how mediation works, and explaining the ground rules for the session. After introductory remarks, each participant has the opportunity to make a brief opening statement and provide their perspective on the problem.
Following the opening statements, there is generally a discussion to clarify the issues, consider the relevant information and data, and explore options. Sometimes, a joint session is followed by a private meeting between the mediator and each party. This allows each side to explain and enlarge upon their goals for the mediation in confidence. Depending on the nature of the dispute and the dynamics of the mediation session, the mediator may alternate between private and joint sessions until the parties have resolved their differences, decided to reconvene for additional sessions, or determined that further mediation is no longer constructive.
Matt is the director of the Environmental Mediation Center and the administrator of the EMC’s agricultural mediation programs. He is an attorney and mediator with over thirty years of experience in environmental law and mediation. He was the founding director of Green Mountain Environmental Resolutions, a dispute resolution firm focused on developing collaborative solutions to environmental and land use disputes. He is also a senior consultant with the Consensus Building Institute. He serves on the Steering Committee of the Coalition of Agricultural Mediation Programs and is listed on the roster of the US Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution.
Cara is the Outreach Coordinator for New Hampshire. She has a BA from Mount Holyoke College in Political Science & Environmental Studies and a MS from the Woodbury Institute at Champlain College in Mediation and Applied Conflict Studies. After 16 years of managing large horse farms and teaching horse-back riding she has shifted her focus to facilitating group dialogues around environmental and civic issues and mediating parties that need to work out a problem. She has a particular affinity for working with individuals and groups around environmental and agricultural issues. Understanding the importance of communication through multiple media, Cara looks forward to increasing NH’s diverse agricultural communities awareness of NHAMP.
Irene is a consultant with the Environmental Mediation Center and is on the roster for NHAMP. Irene is a certified mediator and neutral facilitator focusing her work on problem solving, conflict resolution, consensus building, strategic planning initiatives, project & process development, fair dialogue, & guiding difficult conversations. She specializes in environmental, agricultural, energy, land use, natural resources, planning, and policy issues. She also leads conversations with groups interested in developing communication & conflict resolution skills. Her strong ability to facilitate conversations and foster collaborative decision making comes from 9 years of mediation and facilitation work and training. Irene also has a deep understanding of environmental & technical issues from 17 years working as an environmental professional.
Carol is an attorney who has combined her extensive 20+ year litigation experience with her training in communication, mediation and conflict resolution to form the basis of her dispute resolution and communication facilitation practice. After serving as a Superior Court law clerk, Carol represented clients in state and federal courts throughout New Hampshire. In addition to her mediation practice, Carol works closely with organizations to facilitate retreats, help resolve conflict, develop healthy board practices and lead high-conflict discussion sessions. Carol also lectures on the areas of litigation, expert witnesses, and mediation practices. Learn more about Carol through her website at www.hessgehris.com
George is an attorney and mediator serving as a Superior Court Mediator/Arbitrator, a Foreclosure Mediator and is on several other dispute resolution panels in New Hampshire. George has a background in banking and finance and holds an LLM in banking law. George and his wife have been members of the NH Farm Bureau for many years. They own and operate a certified tree farm with an approved management plan in Deerfield and also grow organic hay. He is a current http://www.eta-i.org/ambien.html member of the NH Timberland Owners Association where he also has served on the Board of Directors. For more about George visit www.lawyersnh.com
Linda is a resident of Londonderry, New Hampshire. She was raised on a family dairy farm in Pennsylvania. Today she resides with her husband, a landscape architect. Together they ran a garden center and raised their family. Linda worked in the field of law for years and returned to school. She graduated from the Massachusetts School of Law in 2002. From the start, she concentrated on mediation services, her business Mediation and GAL Services is located in Londonderry. Linda works with families and transition issues and her personal experience in growing up on a farm and running an agriculture-related business gives her insight into many of the issues faced by New Hampshire producers and lenders today.
Melinda is a partner in Hess Gehris Solutions. She and her partner, Carol Hess, focus their practice on mediation, facilitation and training. Melinda has been mediating professionally since 1994. Her practice includes both private clients and work for the New Hampshire Probate and Superior Courts, the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire, the EEOC and the Human Rights Commission. As an experienced trainer, Melinda develops and leads programs in dispute resolution from basic mediation skills to advanced, specialized dispute resolution training. She has also developed programs in negotiation, arbitration and other dispute resolution processes. Melinda was appointed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court Committee on Dispute Resolution. She is a member of the Board of the New Hampshire Conflict Resolution Association and the Vice-Chair of the New Hampshire Bar Association’s Dispute Resolution Committee. Melinda also serves on the Board of Trustees of Five Rivers Conservation Trust, a land trust in the capitol region of New Hampshire. Melinda was raised on a farm. She and her sister were in 4-H and showed their French Alpine diary goat, Mocha Nanette. Melinda and her husband have a small herd of Tennessee Fainting Goats, several dozen chickens, and a guard llama named Dolce. Visit her at www.hessgehris.com
Connie is a mediator serving parties privately, as well as with the American Arbitration Association, New Hampshire’s probate, superior and business courts, and U.S. District Courts. Connie formerly practiced law with Orr & Reno in Concord and managed a legal aid firm. She was an early adopter of mediation in the 1990s. Connie brings a depth of understanding to loan, real property, succession, grants, and financial matters. Her mediation and legal experience include family probate disputes, and forestry and land protection arenas. For the past 20 years, she has gardened alongside her farmer/retired environmental lawyer/spouse at their several-acre home. For more information about Connie, visit: www.RakowskyMediation.com.
Nelia Sargent serves as a mediator on the NH AMP roster, and has mediated small claims cases for eight years, mainly in Claremont and Newport NH district courts. As an eighth generation sustainable steward for prime Connecticut River agricultural dairy soils, she serves on the Sullivan County conservation District linking local agriculture and forestry producers with USDA. Over thirty years of nonviolent environmental activism led to a law degree, then 500 hours of mediation training at Woodbury College.
Farm loan and other credit issues can make a family farm transition complicated and challenging. When the next generation takes over control of the farm, there are difficult conversations required both within the family and between the family and the lender. There are questions about cash flow, debt, workload, and fairness and equity between siblings. Conflicts can arise between parents and their children or between siblings concerning management of the farm, farm credit and other financial issues. If the conflict is not resolved early on and in a constructive manner, families and businesses can be torn apart. The agricultural mediation program has helped several families deal with these issues by working with all family members to focus on their interests and resolve financial and other management issues.
A farmer entered into a cost share arrangement with NRCS for a manure storage system. The farmer was concerned that the contractor who performed the work did not follow all the specifications in the contract and refused to pay the contractor the remaining balance. At the mediation, the farmer, NRCS, and the contractor had an opportunity to talk about exactly what was done differently and why it was done that way. Once all the parties had a greater understanding of the nature of the work performed, the mediator facilitated a discussion on possible ways to resolve the dispute. Since mediation sessions are confidential, each party could talk openly about which options could be acceptable. The parties were then able to reach an agreement that was acceptable to all parties and most importantly it provided a means for dealing with any future problems.
A farmer was seeking a loan guarantee from USDA to purchase the family farm. After months of back and forth discussions between the farmer, a commercial lender, and USDA, the loan guarantee was denied. The process stalled and the farmer did not know where to turn to next. The farmer contacted the agricultural mediation program in his state and requested mediation. At the mediation, all the parties were at the table together for the first time. Mediation enabled the parties to dispel preconceived notions about each other and address each party’s concerns. The mediator assisted the parties in generating options that addressed concerns raised by the various parties and ultimately the parties were able to work together to develop a loan package that worked for all.
A farmer owed his feed supply store a significant balance. Interest was accruing on the principal and the farmer who was struggling to make ends meet did not know how he was ever going to pay the entire debt. The feed supply store was in a tough bind. If it continued to provide feed, the farmer’s debt would likely continue to grow. If it stopped proving feed to the farmer, the farm would fail. Either way, it was not clear how the farmer could pay back the debt. The farmer contacted FSA and FSA referred the farmer to his state’s agricultural mediation program. At the mediation, it was clear that all parties had an interest in the farmer succeeding. The parties discussed several options for restructuring the loans that would enable the farmer to pay back his entire debt. Ultimately, the parties agreed to a settlement that worked for both the farmer’s and the feed supply store’s balance sheet.
A farmer disputed a determination by NRCS that a particular field was a wetland. The field was designated as a wetland on soil maps but due to past activities on the field, it was difficult, if not impossible, to conduct a new wetland determination. The farmer wanted to plant the field as soon as possible but risked a penalty and his ability to participate in USDA programs if he planted in a wetland. The parties were stuck and the farmer was concerned that the window for planting would soon pass. He requested mediation to resolve the stalemate. The mediator helped the parties make a list of possible methods to make the wetland determination and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Ultimately, the parties agreed to have their wetland experts work side by side to conduct a wetland determination on a similar adjacent field that was also designated a wetland on the soil map. Since all parties agreed to the process and conducted the test together, each party accepted the results.
The above case studies are either compilations of cases with similar facts or include changes to minor details to protect the confidentiality of the mediation process and the privacy of the parties. Photos of farms and or farmers are used for decorative purposes. These farms and farmers were not involved in the above case studies.
The dedication of Agricultural Mediation Program mediators and their ability to get all the necessary parties willing to work together constructively made it possible to reach a positive outcome in a case where it didn’t seem likely.
I tried to resolve my dispute on my own for 18 months but was shot down on every avenue I tried. Once we got into mediation, they really started to listen to me for the first time and we were able to resolve the dispute quickly.
The mediation enabled the parties to communicate their interests clearly and effectively and reach a resolution quickly that was acceptable by all parties. I felt really good about how the mediation was conducted and would use Agricultural Mediation Program’s services again.
Mediation has proven itself to be a cost effective way to deal with any disputes farmers may have with USDA. Compared to the appeals process, it also saves a huge amount of time.
I was struck by how fast it went. The mediation was set up right away and the dispute was resolved within a week. If you want to fight, hire an attorney. If you want to get something done and reach an agreement, hire a mediator.
NH Agricultural Mediation Program
PO Box 2042
Concord, NH. 03302-2042
(603) 685-4780 ext 101
(800) 511-2213 (toll free)
NH Agricultural Mediation Program
PO Box 2042
Concord, NH. 03302-2042
(603) 685-4780 ext 102
(800) 511-2213 (toll free)
NH Agricultural Mediation Program
PO Box 2042
Concord, NH. 03302-2042
(603) 685-4780 ext 105
(800) 511-2213 (toll free)
Please complete the form below to request mediation from the New Hampshire Mediation Program. If you would rather print the form and mail it to us; click here. Once your request has been received we will review your information and contact you.
You’ll also need to fill-out and submit the NHAMP Release Form.