Dispute resolutions help end conflict on farms

By Felicity Wolfe


Disputes between farm owners, employees and families can have a devastating impact on people and happen all too often in the rural community.

A recent prosecution, where a Coromandel farmer reneged on his agreement on milk payments to his sharemilkers, resulted in him receiving a 12-month prison sentence and a sharemilking couple failing to meet their goal of farm ownership.

This may be an extreme case but disputes are common.

There are an increasing number of areas which can spark a dispute, from contractual issues, to effluent management, to leasing agreements.

The Arbitrators' and Mediators' Institute of New Zealand, (AMINZ) expects Fonterra's Trading Among Farmers scheme will produce conflict between owners and sharemilkers.

Federated Farmers has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with AMINZ, the country's largest professional institute for people working in dispute resolution.

For those in sharemilking, the MOU provides clear pathways for resolving disputes, with provision for conciliation and arbitration led by AMINZ into Variable Order Sharemilking contracts.

As well as avoiding the expensive court system in resolving disputes, the conciliation and arbitration offered by AMINZ provides an independent and neutral perspective on the situation, which can ensure parties move beyond the personal.

AMINZ can help people communicate more effectively with each other, allowing them to get past point scoring to find a mutually beneficial solution.

AMINZ executive director Deborah Hart gave a recent example of a contract milking couple that leased out their stock to a farm owner using a formal stock lease agreement. It provided for any replacements to be on a "like for like" basis.

"Unfortunately, when the stock was returned, many were not in calf, other stock had low body condition scores and the replacement stock offered lower breeding worth (BW) than the cows originally provided."

The contract milkers and the farmer were unable to reach an agreement and went to AMINZ for a conciliation process. Once this began, they were able to reach an agreement on the same day.

This included compensation being made to the cows' owners and replacement stock provided by the farmer.

The relationship between farm owners and herd-owning sharemilkers is another area which is often fraught with potential for dispute, with conflict often arising around the areas of body condition scores, milk production and timing of calving.

The disputes can rumble on, potentially leading to explosive disagreements if not confronted and settled.

Federated Farmers Dairy Industry policy adviser Ann Thompson says dealing with disputes early can avoid damaging morale, which can affect the performance of the overall business.

"It is better for everyone involved and the wider industry to avoid these situations by better managing relationships."

- Hamilton News

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