In the agricultural community, relationships are a lifeline. Established in October 2016, the Montana Department of Agriculture’s (MDA) Ag Mediation Program helps people by offering alternative dispute resolution to find solutions that may have previously seemed impossible. These issues might be regarding grazing permits, USDA decisions, neighbor-to-neighbor conflicts and more.
According to Jim Auer, the MDA’s Ag Mediation program coordinator, the program started with a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture via the Agricultural Mediation Program. The goal is to provide mediation to producers who are directly impacted by adverse decisions issued by USDA agencies.
“Since we got started in mediation with the USDA program, we’ve realized there are far more issues in the agriculture community where alternative dispute resolution tools can be used,” Auer says.
Each MDA mediator receives 40 hours of basic mediation training and works in a team with another mediator. The two mediators work together to assist the parties in finding a resolution to their conflict. The mediators do not make decisions or control outcomes; instead, they see that all avenues to resolutions are explored and facilitate conversations with the goal of helping the parties find a resolution they can agree on.
“People don’t always communicate well during a dispute but, most of the time, there are some core interests they have in mind,” Auer says. “We see our Ag Mediation Program as an opportunity to better serve Montana residents, and we’ve gotten positive feedback from folks involved so far.”
The cost of mediation through the MDA is $100 per hour per party, unless the mediation involves the USDA – in that case, there is no charge. More information about the Ag Mediation Program is available online at agr.mt.gov/ag-mediation.