Mediation program works to resolve disputes between Virginia farmers and USDA

Published 5:28 pm Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s agencies and programs often provide Virginia farmers a lifeline to keep their businesses operational.

Given the complexity of some USDA-funded projects, mediation between farmers and USDA agencies can help. The Farm Agricultural Resources & Mediation in Virginia Program, based out of Western Carolina University’s College of Business, is an organization that helps settle disputes between Virginia farmers and USDA.

FARMVA also was a partnering organization on a $500,000 grant awarded to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in 2021 to benefit USDA’s Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. Part of the larger sum was then awarded to the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural advocacy groups.

Judith Ogden, FARMVA mediation director, explained that when Congress passed the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987, it paved the way for federally funded mediation programs to form. FARMVA, as an example, is a USDA-funded program that provides free mediation services to farmers.

Today, those programs help producers avoid bankruptcy and foreclosure through mediated loan restructuring and settle disputes over land and equipment leases and land use.

“There are several advantages to mediation,” Ogden said. “Meeting with an impartial third party helps those involved examine their position and that of their (counterpart). It also encourages the exploration of other solutions.

“Sometimes the parties have never met face-to-face before, and mediation can increase the understanding between them. It also may result in the farmer feeling heard.”

Ogden noted FARMVA works with clients to solve a variety of disputes, such as those with lending institutions, and resolve adverse decisions on wetland determinations, and conservation reserve, crop disaster assistance and environmental quality incentive programs. The program also can assist in settling disputes between farmers and USDA agencies.

Recent legislation has allowed FARMVA to expand its services, which now include work related to farm succession planning and credit counseling. Although the program is based in North Carolina, mediations are carried out in the counties where the involved parties live or work.