Mediation service is a valuable tool for producers
By Lesa Teer
Areas of Kansas, along with many other parts of the Midwest and Southern United States, have been breaking heat records that were set during the days of the Dust Bowl. Few people have felt the impact of the hot, dry weather as much as the producers in the agriculture industry.
The Kansas Agricultural Mediation Services is there to lend producers a helping hand during their hard times. "A lot of times producers don't know where to turn," said Forrest Buhler, KAMS staff attorney.
Since 1988, KAMS has been helping farmers deal with crises, be it through financial counseling, family farm transitioning or legal assistance. KAMS serves as Kansas' official USDA-certified state agricultural mediation program.
KAMS is administered by K-State Research and Extension and uses a mediation process to help resolve conflicts between borrowers and creditors. "We are mainly a place where producers can go to try to resolve things at the local level," Buhler said.
Mediators are provided at no cost to any Kansas agricultural borrower or creditor. Mediators are trained and appointed by the state of Kansas and go through a yearly training to keep up to date on current practices and issues. The mediators act as a neutral party and facilitate a face-to-face meeting in a neutral location to settle the dispute.
All information provided during the process is completely confidential under Kansas and federal law.
Should the clients need it, legal assistance and financial counseling are provided at a low cost in order to assist in the mediation process.
Legal assistance is provided through KAMS' agreement with Kansas Legal Services, Inc. This service provides farmers and ranchers with direct legal representation for a reduced-fee that depends on personal income. The KLS attorneys are available to help clients understand laws, regulations, rights and options that pertain to their situation.
KAMS works with K-State Research and Extension to provide farm financial analysts for financial counseling. Buhler said that the farm financial analyst program has been around for about 25 years and the analysts have a broad understanding of and experience in agriculture. "They know about good management practices, how others have made it work, ideas and objective resources on how to help," Buhler said.
The financial analysts use FinPack, a financial planning and analysis system. "FinPack is used as a centerpiece to work with producers," Buhler said. "It allows you to look at what effect different changes may have on that operation." These options may include changes in land used for production, herd size or length of loan term.
Buhler said that the key thing about FinPack is that it allows the analysts to go to their client's home, where they can view the operation and have records nearby to explore options.
In addition to the financial services offered, KAMS is also available to assist in family farm transitions. "It's not always a simple business decision to pass down the farm," Buhler said. In cases like this, mediators are not only there to offer legal guidance, but also to alleviate pressure from lack of communication.
By calling their toll-free hotline, "you are immediately put in touch with financial counselors and an attorney, if needed," Buhler said. "We are going to make that referral right away and they're going to have a name and number to call."
Buhler said that while it is helpful to collect your loan documents and records before you call, they offer assistance in collecting documents and resources.
Any Kansas agricultural creditor, borrower or producer may call the KAMS hotline to request mediation. The KAMS hotline can be reached at: 1-800-321-FARM (3276). For more information on the KAMS program, visit www.ksre.ksu.edu/kams.
Thirty-seven states currently have USDA Certified State Agricultural Mediation Programs. Programs vary by state. For a list of participating states visit www.rma.usda.gov/regs/mediation.html.