By Kimberly Johnson
Disputes and conflicts are a reality of life. In rural communities, disputes can arise between farmers and neighboring landowners, homeowners associations (HOAs), government agencies, tenants or lessors, and even family members.
Sometimes these disputes can escalate to legal action, which can be time-consuming, expensive, and place a strain on personal and business relationships. While litigation is sometimes an appropriate choice, other options exist to help farm families solve disputes outside of the courtroom.
Alternative Dispute Resolution, or ADR, refers to any method of resolving a dispute besides litigation. Common methods of ADR are arbitration and mediation. Mediation, a voluntary and non-binding ADR method, can be a useful alternative to lawsuits, potentially saving both parties time and money.
During mediation, both parties are heard by a neutral third party who attempts to help them find a mutually beneficial resolution. In Maryland, agricultural operators have access to Maryland Agricultural Conflict Resolution Service or ACReS, which is administered by the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA). ACReS mediates common types of disputes including right-to-farm issues, farm succession planning, and pesticide issues, often at little or no cost to the farmers.
The fact sheet Ensuring the Continued Viability of Rural Communities: Using Mediation to Settle Dispute, developed through a grant with MDA to the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics (AREC) at the University of Maryland, College Park, is one resource for Maryland farmers. This fact sheet, written in part by AREC faculty member and ALEI member Paul Goeringer, offers an introductory look to the mediation process and mediation services provided by ACReS. This short and easy-to-understand document explores the mediation process through the case of Henry Jones, a farmer interested in using mediation to resolve a nuisance claim which a local HOA filed against him.
This and other relevant legal education publications can be found on the ALEI website at http://umaglaw.org/publications-library/
For more information on Maryland Agricultural Conflict Resolution Service or ACReS, visit http://mda.maryland.gov/Pages/acrs.aspx
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