Farm Succession: Consider Cost-Free Agricultural Mediation

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Agricultural mediation programs have stepped up their focus and training on providing mediation services to farm succession situations around the country in response to expanded funding under the 2018 Farm Bill. Such agricultural mediation programs provide cost-free mediation services in a variety of civil dispute situations, often in situations involving a producer or landowner and a government entity.

In North Carolina, we have the NC Agricultural Mediation Program (NCAMP), housed at Western Carolina University and operating statewide. NCAMP can coordinate the cost-free services of a certified mediator who is also trained in and familiar with agricultural production and land use, as well government programs related to both. NCAMP’s range of agricultural mediation services was expanded in the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill), which authorized funds to pay for mediations of disputes involving organic certification disqualification, family farm transition, leases, easement/access issues, and farmer-neighbor disputes (e.g. nuisance). In addition to the 2018 Farm Bill expansion, NCAMP and other state programs continue to provide services in matters involving farm loan disputes, participation in crop insurance and conservation programs, wetland determinations disputes involving USDA actions on farm and conservation programs, wetland determinations, rural water loan programs, and grazing on national forest system lands.

NCAMP held one its periodic mediator trainings this past weekend at the WCU campus in Asheville, where the topic was farm succession. NC State’s Robert Andrew Branan (Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics) provided his perspective from his time in private law practice and through N.C. Cooperative Extension on providing support services to a family’s farm succession process. He also provided his substantive overview of goals and issues in farm succession with an emphasis on how use of various legal tools to steer property title and operational control. The training also involved examination of several case studies. The goal of such training is to enhance mediators’ understanding of the dynamics in farm families, which can help parties’ in their communication and understanding of the varying positions within a succession discussion. Additionally, NC Farmlink‘s Stephen Bishop attended to update the group on the progress and synergistic services of that program, including a programmatic education focus on farm succession planning for producers and landowners across North Carolina.

Mediation is a time-tested alternative dispute resolution method that has a high success rate in helping parties reach a binding agreement that can avoid litigation and trial. Mediation in a dispute is often voluntary, but nonetheless requires the agreement of participation by both the relevant parties in both sides of a dispute. Such mediation requirements can be placed into leases and other agricultural agreements which require the contracting parties to attempt mediation prior to litigation (which puts the court out of reach unless both parties make a good faith effort). Under state law in North Carolina, parties in filed litigation before county superior courts are required to mediate and attempt to resolve their dispute before a case can proceed in court (if mediation fails to produce a settlement, the case can proceed). Such mandatory mediation conferences have achieved a 60% success rate.

For more information on agricultural mediation in North Carolina please visit NCAMP’s website. (Disclosure note: Branan serves on the NCAMP Advisory Board)