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Mediation program for Kan. farmers eyes transition

Mediation program for Kan. farmers eyes transition
Kansas Agricultural Mediation Services has helped the state's farmers with legal advice and mediation services since 1988. (Courtesy of K-State Research and Extension)

MANHATTAN, Kan. — A program that has its roots in helping Kansas farmers through the 1980s farm crisis and which has helped thousands of farmers since then is in transition.

Forrest Buhler, the staff attorney for Kansas Agricultural Mediation Services, has retired after 32 years of service to the state’s farmers. Buhler’s last official day was Jan. 31.

He is being replaced by Erin Strathe, a recent graduate of K-State’s College of Veterinary Medicine who also has earned a law degree from the University of Kansas.

“Our program began as the Farmers Assistance Counseling and Training Service (FACTS) in 1985,” Buhler said. “It was intended to serve farmers who were experiencing difficulties during the 1980s farm crisis. FACTS provided financial, legal, employment training, and family needs for producers, lenders and rural communities needing assistance.”

The Kansas Agricultural Mediation Services (KAMS) is part of a national program funded by Congress beginning in 1988 to use mediation as a tool to work with producers and lenders to resolve financial difficulties short of bankruptcy or foreclosure.

“KAMS worked with FACTS using those resources to help parties prepare for mediation with financial and legal options,” Buhler said. “Preparation has been a big part of the success of KAMS.”

“Forrest and the KAMS team, and the groups we partner with, have built a really great program. I’m excited to be joining the team,” said Strathe, whose first day on the job was Jan. 27. “I’m passionate about helping people, especially Kansas farmers and producers. I’m excited to continue the program’s legacy of helping people in times of need and whenever our services may benefit them.”

Strathe noted that KAMS works with financial analysts from the K-State Research and Extension Farm Analyst Program, Kansas Legal Services attorneys and mediators to better aid the Kansas agricultural community.

Buhler said KAMS is designed to be a safe and confidential place for farmers and ranchers to call to receive assistance and be proactive in addressing their needs. He said the program’s staff serves as an unbiased party that can align people with resources to help them make a good decision.

“Over the last three to four years, the farm economy has been very difficult, and our calls have increased,” Buhler said. “Our requests for services from farm analysts have increased. Lenders want to work with producers. It helps if we can offer farmers some objective, neutral services to meet the needs of both lenders and producers.”

Buhler said that a typical request involves several people, including creditors, bankers, producers and family members. Over 32 years, he has worked with “thousands of people” in helping to resolve challenges on Kansas’ farms.

“There is a real need out there for this type of program,” Buhler said. “People are making important decisions: ‘Should I restructure my debt or am I in a spot where I need to liquidate? How can I transition the operation?’ There are difficult decisions to be made because of the consistent and chronic nature of this poor cycle we have been in.”

“Giving producers options and information to be able to make good business decisions for their families and everyone else based on objective information really is a good service at this point.”

Buhler noted that KAMS’ success during his tenure is a result of the work by his office staff and numerous partners, including K-State Research and Extension and its agents across the state; and Kansas State University.

For more information on KAMS, call 1-800-321-FARM or visit ksre.ksu.edu/kams.

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