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Mediation can resolve farm conflicts

A man walks the fields on his family farm in Tennessee.
A man walks the fields on his family farm in Tennessee.

LANSING, Mich. — Farming is stressful enough, but add financial conflicts to the mix and the job is even harder.

Mediation is a conflict resolution process that can help solve problems on the farm.

“It’s a communication process in which people with a disagreement work with a neutral third party to develop solutions,” said David Gruber, executive director of Roundtable Strategies, during a webinar hosted by AgriSafe.

“Mediation is not meditation, medication, therapy, direct negotiation between two people, arbitration or litigation.”

An example of the mediation process would involve both parties meeting with a trained, neutral mediator to discuss problems from both perspectives.

The group defines what issues need to be addressed and decide which options they can accept. If an agreement is reached, it’s written down.

“The key here is to meet both of the party’s needs,” Gruber said.

Mediation is voluntary and private.

The mediator can be of assistance in many ways.

“First of all, they provide an environment for safe discussion,” Gruber said.

“Generally speaking, they want to make sure the discussion moves along in a respectful way, one that allows the parties to be heard, allows them to suggest solutions, and tries to even the playing field between parties by giving them all a chance to participate and contribute.”

The mediator remains neutral and does not take sides. They may also help draft an agreement between the two parties.

“Mediation can play a major role in developing and exploring options to help resolve ag credit disputes in which difficult financial, family and emotional issues are strongly intertwined,” said Kate Pigott, program coordinator with the Michigan and Florida Agricultural Mediation Program.

“Many disputes involve an overlapping dynamic between different elements. These aspects of our lives don’t exist in different test tubes. Our finances, family lives, work life and health influence each other. Mediation has the ability to address these multiple aspects.”

Mediation leaves room for underlying issues to be talked about and come to light, Pigott said.

“There’s hope and optimism that everyone is there to find a workable solution, a win-win,” she said.

Learn more at www.agriculturemediation.org.

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