13 Free Farm Commons Legal Webinars

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Photo © Patty O’Brien | www.summercrowphotos.com

Farm Commons announced free registration is open for 13 different law webinars that span from December through March. Farm Commons is an organization working to empower farmers and local communities by connecting them with specialized attorneys. The organization’s webinars are intended to provide individuals with a deeper knowledge of applicable farm law.

Want to learn how to build a legally sound CSA business? How about hosting legally secure farm events? Farm Commons’ webinars have everything you need to know about all this and more. The first eight webinars cover the basics of farm law before the last five delve into more advanced topics. Register now before it’s too late:

1. The Beginning Farmer’s Introduction to Farm Law

Monday, December 8

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

2. Put Your CSA On Strong Legal Footing

Tuesday, December 9

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

3. Hosting Safe, Legally Secure Farm Events

Monday, January 5

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

4. Adding Value without Adding Legal Liability to Farm Products

Tuesday, January 6

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

5. Farmland Leases Built to Last: Content and Legal Context

Monday, January 19

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

6. Food Safety Liability and Regulations for the Farm

Tuesday, January 20

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

7. Sales Contracts for Farm Produce: Why and How

Monday, February 2

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

8. Making Employment Law Work for Your Farm

Tuesday, February 3

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

9. Farm Sole Proprietorships, LLCs, S Corps, C Corps, and Coops: Which? Why? How? (Advanced)

Monday, February 23

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

10. Going In-Depth With CSA Farm Law (Advanced)

Tuesday, February 24

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

11. Getting Farm Work Done Legally With Interns, Apprentices and Volunteers (Advanced)

Monday, March 2

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

12. Financing a Farmland Purchase: Legal Basics for Traditional and Non-Traditional Farmland Purchases (Advanced)

Monday, March 23

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

13. Efficiently Manage Your Farm’s Risks with Insurance (Advanced)

Tuesday, March 24

1 pm Eastern Standard Time

Register here

Want to learn more about webinars? Check out this Spotlight Roundup from earlier this year that highlights 7 organizations producing incredibly helpful webinars on food and farming issues.

Land Transfer, Succession and Tenure Resource Roundup

The average age of farmers in America is 57, a figure that consistently is on the rise. As a result, farmland succession is becoming of greater concern while beginning farmers are simultaneously struggling to find affordable farmland. Luckily, there are plenty of resources available for farmers that can help with land transfer, tenure and succession planning.

International Farm Transition Network (IFTN) 

The IFTN website lists all land link organizations by state. Land link currently exists in 23 states as a resource that connects farmers that are seeking land with farmland that is for sale or lease. Oftentimes, these programs assist farmers with lease negotiation and can even provide financial support during the process. Some land link programs offer succession planning training or resources.

California FarmLink offers an extensive online list of resources available to farmers seeking to buy or sell land.

Land Trust Alliance

The Land Trust Alliance offers an online map with listings of all land trust organizations by state. A land trust is an organization that works to conserve land through helping with the process of easement attainment or management. An agricultural easement is an important tool in dealing with succession, allowing farmers to dictate what their land is used for after it is sold. This can be invaluable to a farmer by restricting development on the land after it is passed on so it is farmed in the future.

The Greenhorns

 The Greenhorns offers an Access to Land guide that provides links to resources focusing on incubator farms, farm link programs, lease agreements, agricultural and conservation easements and land tenure.

Agrarian Trust

The Agrarian Trust resource page contains a growing list of resources that can help with many aspects of land access, transfer and succession planning. Some of the categories covered in this list include: accessing land, financing and financial planning, agricultural mediation and legal services, succession planning, and much more!

Land for Good

This 2013 Resource Spotlight highlights succession guides that are available to assist with the farm succession process. The publications cover everything “from setting goals to understanding legal and financial terms used in farmland and business transfers.”

The site’s Toolbox page also contains resources pertaining to land access, tenure and transfer separated into the following categories: farm seekers, farm transfer planning, landowners, educators and advisors and communities.

Land Stewardship Project

The Land Stewardship Project, in partnership with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, Farmers Legal Action Group, National Center for Appropriate Technology and the United States Department of Agriculture, developed the Farm Transitions Toolkit. This comprehensive guide provides step-by-step information and advice on the transition process.

Are you a beginning farmer with questions about land access? Check out our Beginning Farmer and Farm Start-Up Resource Guides for more information!

Discovering the Agriculture Mediation Program

For most farmers, a dispute with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is an intimidating prospect. After all, the USDA is a large federal government agency, and some farmers can’t afford even basic legal services.

Enter the Agriculture Credit Act of 1987, which helped create Agriculture Mediation Programs in various states. Mediation is a free or low-cost alternative to legal action. While disputes can take years to resolve through legal action, mediation typically can be completed in a few sessions lasting hours. Thirty-eight states currently offer this type of program, and a federal mediation service is available to farmers located elsewhere.

How does a state obtain a certified USDA Agriculture Mediation Program?

Any state can apply to have a USDA certified Agriculture Mediation Program. An entity must first apply through the USDA in Washington, DC. This entity can be a university, a state department, a nonprofit or a company, but each faces a different set of conditions for compliance with the Code of Federal Regulations. The application process is extensive and requires a letter of recommendation from the state’s governor or the head of another appointed agency. If a state would like to apply, the governor or designated state agency official must notify a Farm Service Agency administrator on August 1.

If an applying institution passes the initial screening, its employees go through training and education administered by the federal Agriculture Mediation Program under the USDA. Once the training is complete and the institution has been approved to become an official USDA-recognized Agriculture Mediation Program, it must submit annual reporting to the USDA.

A certified Agriculture Mediation Program receives grant funding from the USDA equaling up to 70 percent of the program’s budget for covered cases. Coverage extends to cases involving agricultural loans, agricultural credit and adverse decisions by a USDA agency.

How can mediation help?

When someone faces an adverse USDA decision, that person may be offered mediation as an option under the Department’s informal appeals process. An individual can also contact a mediation program directly if he or she thinks it is a viable option. Mediation is entirely confidential, and no documents created during the process can be used in any legal action that might follow. Both parties are prepared by the mediator in advance of the mediation session. This may include financial counseling, acquiring proper documentation or any other preparations necessary for a specific case. The mediator acts as an entirely impartial third party, and either party can request a different mediator at any stage in the process. Some states also offer mediation to resolve issues outside of the USDA’s domain, such as disputes involving contracts with food processors or conflicts with neighbors, although 60 percent of mediation cases deal with farm loan programs.

Once both parties agree to mediation, a time and meeting location is determined. Depending on the issue, mediation can sometimes be completed over the phone. Whether mediation takes place by phone or in person, both parties and the trained mediator are present. Gayle Cooper, associate director of the Fulcrum Institute Dispute Resolution Clinic with locations in Idaho, Montana and Washington, estimates that the entire mediation process averages about three hours, depending on the complexity of the issue. While many states, including Idaho, Montana and Washington, offer these services for free, other states charge a small fee. Iowa, for example, charges $50 per hour. In many cases, that’s a more affordable option than paying for an attorney, who can charge anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per hour while pursuing legal action that might take months or years to resolve.

It’s important to note that mediation is very different from legal action in that the mediator has no decision-making power. He or she is simply the facilitator. If the two parties are able to come to an agreement, the mediator will create a binding document for both parties to sign.

USDA disputes:

The Agriculture Mediation Program was originally intended to help farmers respond to adverse USDA decisions without pursuing a legal course of action. Each state with an Agriculture Mediation Program covers cases involving the following eight USDA agencies or programs:

(1)  Farm Service Agency farm programs

(2)  Rural Development housing loans

(3)  Rural Development business loans

(4)  Rural Development water loans

(5)  Natural Resources Conservation Service wetland determinations

(6)  USDA decisions involving pesticides

(7)  National Forest Service grazing permits

(8)  Risk Management Agency crop insurance disputes

Agriculture Mediation Programs are also required to cover issues with agricultural credit and agricultural loans from the Farm Service Agency, as well as from commercial and private lenders.

Other disputes:

Not all states provide mediation services for disputes that do not involve the USDA. States that do offer this option cannot receive federal funding to do so. Each state that does offer non-USDA mediation has different provisions for the types of conflicts it can address. Elaine Bourne, program manager for Community Mediation Services in Maine, shares some examples of common disputes that Maine’s program can help with: farm and rural development loans, environmental or forestry issues, crop insurance or disaster relief, contracts with food processors, conflicts with neighbors, labor issues, farm business plans, wetland determinations, farm succession or estate issues and disputes affecting agricultural operations.

What states offer these services?

Below is a list of states that offer certified Agriculture Mediation Programs, with links to each website where applicable. Don’t see your state below? You can contact the national office by emailing certified.mediationprogram@wdc.usda.gov.

Alabama Agricultural Mediation Program

Arkansas Farm/Creditor Mediation Program

Arizona Agriculture Mediation Institute

Colorado Agricultural Mediation Program

Florida Agricultural Mediation Service

Hawaii Agricultural Mediation Program

Illinois Agricultural Mediation Program

Indiana Agricultural Mediation Program

Iowa Mediation Service (IMS)

Kansas Ag Mediation Services (KAMS)

Louisiana State Agricultural Mediation Program

Maine Agricultural Mediation Program – Volunteers of America

Massachusetts Agricultural Mediation Program

Michigan Agricultural Mediation Program

Minnesota Farmer/Lender Mediation Program

Mississippi Agricultural Mediation Program

Missouri Agricultural Mediation Services

Nebraska Farm Mediation Service

New Hampshire Agricultural Mediation Program

New Mexico Agricultural Mediation Program

New York State Agricultural Mediation Program

North Carolina Agricultural Mediation Program

North Dakota Mediation Service

Oklahoma Agriculture Mediation Program, Inc.

Oregon Farm Mediation Program

South Dakota Mediation and Ag Finance Counseling

State of New Jersey Board of Mediation

Texas Rural Mediation Services

The Community Mediation Center of Rhode Island

Utah Agricultural Mediation Program

Vermont Agricultural Mediation Program

Virginia Agricultural Mediation Program

Wisconsin Farm Mediation and Arbitration Program

Wyoming Ag & Natural Resource Mediation Program

Fulcrum Institute Dispute Resolution Clinic (ID, MT, WA)

Where can I find more information about mediation?

There are many resources available that offer a more in-depth look into how mediation can help, as well as advice on how to contact a local mediation provider.

• The USDA shares this overview of the Agriculture Mediation Program and provides contact information for each state entity.

• Mediate.com walks you through the history of mediation, what it is and how it can help.

• Farm Aid’s Farmer Resource Network includes information about each state’s mediation program and contact information.

Join Us for Farm Advocate Workshops at PASA’s Farming for the Future Conference

A project of Farm AidRAFI-USA and several cooperating partners, the Farm Advocate Link is a newly established national network of farm advocates whose goal is to honor and support established advocates, welcome new and aspiring advocates, and provide ongoing training, professional development and a shared sense of purpose to farm advocates across the country.

The Farm Advocate Link will offer two workshops: Farm Advocacy 101 and Dealing with Disasters, at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) Farming for the Future conference on February 8th & 9th. The workshops, open to everyone, will be led by Joel Morton of Farm Aid, Scott Marlow of RAFI-USA, and Lynn Hayes of the Farmers Legal Action Group (FLAG).

For descriptions of each workshop and more information about the Farm Advocate Link, visit www.farmaid.org/advocates. For more about the PASA conference, visit conference.pasafarming.org.

Hispanic & Women’s Discrimination Claims Process Now Open

The claims process for Hispanic & women farmers and ranchers claiming discriminatory FSA practices is now open. Farmers who faced discriminatory denials of farm loans or service assistance by the USDA between 1981 and 2000 can file their claims through March 25, 2013. This voluntary claims process offers an alternative to litigation and requires no fees or legal representation. At least $1.33 billion will be made available for awards and payments, and an additional $160 million will be available in farm debt relief to eligible farmers and ranchers. To register for a claims package, call 1-888-508-4429 or visit www.farmerclaims.gov.

Farm Aid’s partner, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives released Tips for Completing Claims Form for Hispanic and Women Farmers and Ranchers to assist farmers in the claims process. The guide provides in-depth explanations of each question on the USDA claims form and step-by-step instructions for how to answer and file properly. For direct assistance from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, contact John Zippert, Director of Programs, at 205.652.9676 (johnzippert@federation.coop) or Mircha King, Lawsuit Legal Coordinator, at 800.503.5678 (mirchaking@federation.coop).

Another Farm Aid partner, the Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) will host a free webinar on January 8, 2013 at 11 AM EST/10 AM Central Time to address questions about eligibility and offer assistance in filing claims. Representatives from the Farmers Legal Action Group and Rural Coalition/Coalicion Rural will be presenting. The public is invited to log-in here, or access the archived webinar through WFAN after the event.

 

Farmers’ Guide to Navigating Organic Contracts

In response to the growing use of written contracts in the booming organic sector, the Farmers’ Legal Action Group (FLAG), one of our Resource Partners, just released the Farmers’ Guide to Organic Contracts. The guide was created to help USDA-certified organic farmers make informed decisions and offer solutions when negotiating with organic buyers about their contracts. The guide assists farmers in evaluating offers, negotiating contract terms, managing performance, and finding solutions to contract disputes.

The guide is organized into the following sections:

  • Overview of Contract Laws Relevant to Farmers
    A basic overview of contract law helpful for farmers, including creating an enforceable agreement and successfully changing formal agreements within a contract period
  • Practical Contracting Toolkit
    A primer on contract basics, negotiation strategy tips and advice to manage an agreement
  • Explaining How Organic Regulations Interact with Contracts
    How contracts may affect farmers’ compliance with organic regulations, and how regulations can affect farmers’ ability to satisfy contracts
  • Examples of Unfavorable and More Favorable Contract Language
    A detailed examination of 100+ types of organic contract provisions from price to GMO testing
  • Information About Solving Common Contract Disputes
    How to enforce an organic contract against a buyer and tips for finding a qualified contract attorney and handling a lawsuit, including ten common contract dispute situations

To access a free download of Farmers’ Guide to Organic Contracts and for other FLAG publications and agriculture contract resources, visit the FLAG website.