The Hawaii Agricultural Mediation Program
The Hawaii Agricultural Mediation Program (HIAMP) is the official United States Department of Agriculture certified agricultural mediation program for Hawaii. HIAMP 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.
What Kind of Agricultural Issues Can Be Mediated for Free?
Contracts, Farm Management, and Labor
Operating a farm requires overseeing general farm management issues as well as managing labor and contractual issues. When problems in these areas arise, the mediation program can help the parties discuss the issue in a constructive manner and develop mutually acceptable solutions.
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.
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.
Family Farm Transitions
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.
Farm Credit/Debt Issues
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.
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.
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.
Leases (Land and Equipment)
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.
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.
Pesticide use is heavily regulated and can be contentious. Mediation can help parties address issues concerning pesticide application, enforcement, drift, buffers, and other issues.
USDA Farm and Conservation Programs
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.
USDA Rural Development Loans
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.
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.
How Much Does Mediation Cost?
For other common questions about mediation, see our FAQ.
Steps To Request Mediation Through HIAMP
- Fill out and submit a Request for Mediation form.
- HIAMP staff will confirm that the other party (or parties) is willing to participate in the mediation.
- HIAMP staff will conduct brief confidential interviews to learn background information about the dispute.
- HIAMP will assign a mediator from the Agricultural Mediation Roster or HIAMP staff based on subject matter expertise, geography, and availability.
- The mediator will contact the parties to arrange a date, time and location for the mediation session.
Bring financial stability to your operation. See how ag credit mediation can help.
Program Manager and Mediator
Teya is the HIAMP Program Coordinator. She is a mediator, facilitator, arbitrator, and attorney, with an interest in the intersection of agriculture and conservation. She worked with agricultural commodity boards in Oregon as an assistant attorney general and has collaborated with local and statewide agricultural groups during her time working on invasive species issues in Hawaii. She also writes and reports on local, regional, and international issues related to biodiversity, agriculture, and culture.
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 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.
HIAMP Government Liaison and Special Projects Coordinator
Peter S. Adler, Ph.D. is the Government Liaison and Special Projects Coordinator of the Hawaii Agricultural Mediation Program. Formerly he was President of The Keystone Center, which applies consensus-building and scientific information to energy, environmental, and health related policy problems. Peter’s specialty is multi-party negotiation and problem solving. He has worked extensively on water management, resource planning, agricultural issues, land planning issues, and marine and coastal affairs. Peter has held executive positions with the Hawaii Justice Foundation, the Hawaii Supreme Court’s Center for Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR), and the Neighborhood Justice Center. He has served as President of the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution and has written extensively in the field of mediation, conflict resolution, and leadership.
Stephen G. Bess
Steve is HIAMP’s mediator for the Big Island. His mediation experience spans 18 years and currently serves as a Director and Mediator for the West Hawaii Mediation Center. Steve’s agricultural experience includes working with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, USDA and NRCS. Steve is a trustee of a working cattle ranch. He received his professional mediator training at Harvard University and ombudsman training from the International Association of Ombudsman. His expertise includes the mediation of foreclosure disputes and serving as Commissioner for land sale foreclosures, Third Circuit Court. Steve is experienced in matters relating to land use (agriculture and urban), water, eminent domain and public policy. He has served as Hawaii County’s Corporation Counsel and is currently engaged in the private practice of law.
“No fight, no blame” so “Make hay while the sun shines” –
attributable to Lao Tsu and John Heywood’s A dialogue continuing the number in effect of all the Proverbs in the English tongue, 1546.
Elizabeth A. (“Betsy) Strance
Farm Loans Complicate Family Farm Transition
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.
NRCS Cost Share Dispute
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.
Farm Loan Denial
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.
Restructuring Farm Loan To Feed Supply Store
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.