The Vermont Agricultural Mediation Program (VTAMP) is the official United States Department of Agriculture certified agricultural mediation program for Vermont. VTAMP 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 or view the video to the right.
VTAMP is a valued and trusted resource that helps the agricultural community in Vermont resolve disputes. Over the past several years VTAMP has helped hundreds of farmers, lenders, and others in the agricultural community reach agreements and get back to work. I urge you to contact them if you need assistance concerning a dispute. —Chuck Ross, Vermont Secretary of Agriculture
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.
VTAMP provides free mediation services to the agricultural community in Vermont on the issues listed above. For other agricultural issues, VTAMP will provide the mediation services free of charge when other funding sources are available. In some cases, VTAMP may ask parties to pay based on a sliding scale.
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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.
Julie Hoyt was the Associate Director of the Environmental Mediation Center. Julie has worked with EMC since 2007 and previously assisted in the administration of both the Vermont and New Hampshire Agricultural Mediation Programs. Julie is an attorney admitted to practice in both Vermont and Massachusetts. Julie’s mediation experience includes a variety of producer-creditor disputes, adverse decision letters arising from FSA loans, NRCS programs, Rural Development loans and many others. Julie has experience working in the agricultural community working on issues affecting dairy and goat farms and fruit and vegetable growers.
Neal Rodar has over 16 years of experience in professional mediation. He was Director of the Woodbury Dispute Resolution Center for ten years. Neal’s Board and Committee memberships include the Professional Responsibility Board of the Vermont Supreme Court, the Vermont Board of Bar Examiners, the Environmental Mediation Center, the Oversight Committee of the Vermont Family Court Mediation Program, and the Vermont Environmental Court Mediation Program. Neal has worked extensively developing mediation programs with State Governments and serves as Mediator-in-Residence at the Woodbury Institute at Champlain College in their Masters in Mediation and Applied Conflict Studies program.
Susan is a nationally recognized mediator, facilitator, and consultant working in complex issues in the public and private sector. She teaches in the Masters in Mediation Program at the Woodbury Institute at Champlain College and is adjunct faculty at Vermont Law School. She is also a contract mediator with a number of state agencies and is recognized for her thoughtful and creative approach to problem solving. Susan lives on a diversified tree farm and has worked with numerous dairy farm families in planning farm succession.
Alfred has worked as a mediator for over thirteen years. He is a member of the Vermont Bar and an active member of the Vermont Bar Association’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee. Alfred is an Adjunct Professor in the Masters in Mediation (teaching Legal Issues in Mediation and Negotiation) and Masters of Science in Law (teaching Constitutional Law, Torts, and Alternative Dispute Resolution) programs at the Woodbury Institute of Champlain College and an active member of the Vermont Bar Association’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee. In his past life, he spent four years as a Wilderness Ranger in Wenatchee National Forest in Washington state. Today he lives and works in and around Montpelier, Vermont. Learn more about Alfred at his website: www.riverstoneresolutions.com
Julian is currently the director of the Master’s in Mediation and Applied Conflict Studies of the Woodbury Institute of Champlain College. His experience ranges from interpersonal situations to multistakeholder dialogue processes primarily to help people and communities resolve differences over managing their natural resources, specifically land use, distribution and ownership, fisheries management and coastal development. He has assisted communities in developing ad hoc systems for resource management as well as community-led policy recommendations to be adopted by government actors. Julian has worked to resolve disputes in over a dozen countries. He has consulted for the UN, national governments, universities and colleges and other institutions. In addition to English, he is fluent in Spanish and French.
With a background in science, education and mediation, Jennifer brings a breadth and depth of knowledge in technical science, forestry, and agriculture to her mediation and facilitation practice. Her work includes facilitation, conflict consulting, trainings and mediation for non-profits, towns, the agricultural community, the U.S. Forest Service, and in Chittenden County Small Claims Court. Jennifer served as a field and lab scientist for 24 years before becoming a mediator and facilitator. For more than a decade, Jennifer supervised soil and plant tissue analysis in the UVM Agricultural & Environmental Testing Lab, interpreting lab results for, and building collaborative relationships with farmers, feed dealers, extension agents and researchers. Active in the community garden behind her house, Jennifer has also been a longtime supporter and member of a CSA. Learn more at: www.jenniferlarsenassociates.com.
Liza has over 20 years of experience in the non-profit sector in Vermont, supporting families and communities to reach resolution about the current and future uses of land. Liza has experience in facilitation and negotiation in issues related to farms, forests, public recreation, family conflicts, and local government land use decisions. Liza has a B.S. in Environmental Studies. She has training in dispute resolution and mediation in areas of divorce, elder law, land use, and family lands from Woodbury College and Vermont Law School. Currently, Liza is studying at the Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation. In a volunteer role, Liza chairs the Mad River Valley Recreation District, a three-town partnership focused on coordinating and increasing community access to recreation. Liza brings a combination of diverse experiences, depth of understanding of many perspectives, and optimism to her conflict resolution practice.
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.
Vermont Agricultural Mediation Program
177 Paddy Hill Road
Moretown, VT 05660
(802) 583-1100 ext 101
(800) 511-2213 (toll free)
cell (802) 498-8448
Vermont Agricultural Mediation Program
177 Paddy Hill Road
Moretown, VT 05660
(802) 583-1100 ext 102
(800) 511-2213 (toll free)
Please complete the form below to request mediation from the Vermont 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 VTAMP Release Form.