The California Agricultural Mediation Program (CALAMP) is the official United States Department of Agriculture certified agricultural mediation program for California. CALAMP’s services are free to the agricultural community on many issues. Mediation is a way to resolve disputes using an impartial person to assist parties negotiate their differences. For additional background information about mediation; click here.
“The California Agricultural Mediation Program provides free mediation services to the agricultural community on many issues. Mediation is an informal and fast way to resolve problems and I encourage you to contact them if you need assistance. The program is certified by CDFA and USDA.” – Karen Ross, CDFA Secretary
What Kinds of Agricultural Disputes Can Be Mediated?
Adverse Decisions from USDA agencies
Compliance Issues with USDA Farm and Conservation Programs
Farm and Rural Development Loans
Farm Credit/Debt Issues
Other Agricultural Disputes
How Much Does Mediation Cost?
CALAMP provides free mediation services to the agricultural community in California on the issues listed above. For other agricultural issues, CALAMP will provide the mediation services free of charge when other funding sources are available. In some cases, CALAMP may ask parties to pay based on a sliding scale.
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.
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.
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.
Farmer Neighbor Dispute
Neighbors were concerned that their water supply may become contaminated because cows from a neighboring farm were able to roam close to their spring. It was important to the neighbors to preserve good relations with the farmer but informal communications between the parties failed to result in increased protection of the spring.
The neighbors contacted their state's agricultural mediation program for help. The agricultural mediation program worked with the parties and the Agency of Agriculture to develop a settlement that did not interfere with the grazing area for the cows while at the same time increasing the protection zone for the spring.
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 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.
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.
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. - Farmer
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. - USDA employee
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. - Commercial lender
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. - Farmer
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. - USDA Employee