A new statewide program to train neutral mediators to help resolve disputes between agencies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and their clients will be established at Western Carolina University though a federal grant of nearly $95,000.
The N.C. Agriculture Mediation Program, to be housed in WCU’s College of Business, is designed to assist farmers and ranchers across the state in settling disputes with the USDA and its agencies before those disagreements reach costly and time-consuming lawsuits or bankruptcy proceedings, said Jayne Zanglein, assistant professor of business law at Western.
“Mediation is a much more cost-effective way for two or more parties to settle disputes than by going to court, which can result in a long, drawn-out process,” said Zanglein, who wrote the proposal for the USDA grant that is funding the new program. “It involves getting the parties to sit down together with a neutral third party who facilitates discussions and negotiations to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.”
Mediation has become an increasingly popular method to resolve disputes, and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture has encouraged the development of agricultural meditation programs nationally, she said. “Thirty-two states have a certified agricultural mediation program, but North Carolina did not have such a program despite the recognition by NASDA that mediation is now more important than ever before,” Zanglein said. “With this grant, we can move forward to develop mediation services for North Carolina’s farming community.”
Mediation can be used to help resolve disputes in numerous areas related to the business of agriculture, including agricultural credit, risk management and crop insurances, rural water loan programs, pesticide use, rural housing and other rural development issues. Among the USDA agencies involved in mediation are the Farm Services Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Services, Rural Development and the Risk Management Agency. The mediation program also can be used to help resolve disputes between farmers and private agricultural lenders.
Through the program, NCAMP will provide a basic, 40-hour mediation training course and an additional 20 hours of specialized training in USDA program issues, including sessions on the dynamics between farmers and creditors.
The new mediation service will build upon Western’s existing program in community mediation, including a new mediation internship effort in conjunction with Mountain Mediation Services and a pending program in conflict resolution and cross-cultural communication. Zanglein, who will serve as training director for NCAMS, is an experienced mediator who holds a law degree.
The program will train mediators statewide to conduct agricultural mediations, Zanglein said. “Our goal is to create eastern, central and western divisions, each with six to 10 trained agricultural mediators.”
For more information about the North Carolina Agricultural Mediation Program, contact Jayne Zanglein at (828) 227-7191 or via e-mail at email@example.com.