Mediation Solves Farming Problems

Robert Osburn had a problem. Upon retiring 20 years ago, the Lenawee County farmer placed both of his farmland parcels into the USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for two 10- year contracts as an alternative to cash renting to another farmer. Unfortunately, in the 18th year, Robert died and the farms were placed in a family trust.

The family’s trustees worked to leave the CRP upon maturity, but the purportedly ‘easy’ process became very complicated. Updated maps from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) identified over 25 “wetlands” of 0.05 to 1.5 acres each that created a “Swiss cheese pattern” on the land and would make a beautiful and productive 100-acre parcel impossible to rent. “Where were these ‘wetlands’ 20 years ago?” asked Robert’s son-in-law, Jerry Richter.

Richter conducted extensive research but failed to find the answer. He hired legal counsel and an expert witness to take his case to the USDA’s National Appeals Division (NAD). Before the hearing, he received a call from Dr. Betsy Dierberger, state resource conservationist at the Michigan office of the USDA-NRCS. Part of Dierberger’s job is to resolve wetland disputes.

Skeptical but willing to try anything to save the farm for production purposes, Richter agreed to meet with Dierberger and a mediator from the Michigan Agricultural Mediation Program (MAMP) in a private room at the Lenawee County Library. The NAD administrative law judge stayed the hearing pending the outcome.

With the aid of a “highly competent” mediator, according to Richter, his family and Dierberger discussed “what happened in two decades of CRP that morphed our non-wetlands into wetlands.” The Richters and Dierberger reviewed the various maps, photographs, plant inventories, and other records for each of the designated wetlands. They concluded that most were not wetlands.

Today, Richter’s farm is back in production agriculture with its first-ever organic wheat harvested in July 2018. Richter strongly urges other farmers in a dispute with USDA agencies to contact the MAMP by visiting or calling (800) 616-7863.

New MSPA Executive Director

Samantha Ludlam will be new MSPA Executive Director

Samantha Ludlam was chosen for the ED position of MSPA after Maury Kaercher retires following the 2021 Shepherd’s Weekend event.  Samantha will start part-time in September to shadow Maury and Nancy as they organize the 2021 event to give her an insight into the huge amount of work that goes into organizing this event.

Samantha has been involved with the sheep industry as part of her family’s Windswept Farm in Hopkins Michigan. She is a recent graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in Ag, Food, and Natural Resources Education and will be teaching Agri-science and FFA advisor in the Dundee School System this fall.
Samantha brings a long history of working with youth programs and hopes to grow membership, promote MSPA to everyone who raises sheep in Michigan, and of course, continue providing valuable information via educational activities like the Shepherds Weekend.

We welcome Samantha to MSPA,

The MSPA remembers Thelma Buckham and Roger Brooks

Remembering Michigan Sheep Producers

The month of April was a difficult one for those sheep producers who look to outstanding mentors for guidance and examples of how to live a life that ensures a valuable legacy for those of us who come after.  Thelma Buckham of Kalamazoo and Roger Brooks of Manchester have each left their mark on the sheep industry in Michigan and each has left a legacy of families that are still active and vital to the sheep industry in the state.  The MSPA offers its gratitude for that legacy and offers its condolences to the Buckham and Brooks families.

 Click here for her obituary.   

Roger D. Brooks

  Click here for his obituary.