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Published March 08, 2010, 07:39 AM

Program funds states to help farmers deal with credit disputes

WASHINGTON — The House Agriculture Committee approved by unanimous voice vote March 3 an extension through 2015 of the agricultural mediation programs authorized under Title V of the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — The House Agriculture Committee approved by unanimous voice vote March 3 an extension through 2015 of the agricultural mediation programs authorized under Title V of the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987.

The mediation program, which provides grants to the state departments of agriculture to help farmers deal with credit disputes in a nonadversarial setting, was passed during the farm crisis of the 1980s.

The action was taken at this time rather than in the 2008 farm bill because the authorization did not expire at that time, a committee spokeswoman said. The bill allows appropriations of up to $7.5 million per year, but the appropriation for fiscal year 2010 was $4.369 million, a committee aide said.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the program is being used this year by dairy and hog farmers, who have experienced difficult economic circumstances. Peterson said that he had heard more people talk about mediation in the past year than in the past 10 years.

In discussing the measure, Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, said he has had farmers complain to him about being unable to get farm loans from banks. But Peterson said farmers ultimately get the loans, but that the application process is tougher because bankers are more careful about loans than before the financial crisis. Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said he thinks regulators are discouraging new lending.

According to the USDA Farm Service Agency Web site, 32 states are participating in the mediation program, which provides matching grants to the states. USDA says that mediation helps resolve many areas of disputes, including farm loans, price support payments, wetland determinations, conservation compliance and Conservation Reserve Program payment eligibility and limitations. FSA also noted that several USDA agencies have requested the state mediation programs mediate cases including rural housing, rural development, civil rights and risk management-crop insurance cases.

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the Center for Theology and Land and the National Association for Rural Mental Health have also cited the program’s benefits to troubled farmers.

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