LANSING - A direct reflection of Michigan's prosperous agriculture industry, Michigan Farm Bureau's (MFB) farmer membership grew again this year, solidifying MFB's position as the state's largest general farm organization. For the second consecutive year, associate (non-farmer) membership also grew. The organization's total membership now stands at 193,814 members.

Regular (farmer) membership criteria is determined by Michigan's 67 county-level Farm Bureaus, but typically represents individuals with direct ties to agriculture, including full- and part-time farmers, farm employees and landowners who rent farmland. Associate members are non-farmers who partake of the organization's member discounts, including but not limited to Farm Bureau Insurance products.

MFB now boasts a total of 48,178 farmer members, up from 47,054 a year ago. Associate membership totaled 145,636, up from 145,007 associate members last year.

While many industries are struggling in Michigan, agriculture continues to grow, and MFB's membership increase is a reflection of that growth, said Mike Wenkel, manager of MFB's Membership and Field Services Department.

"Michigan Farm Bureau membership represents the interests of farms of all sizes and all commodities, as well as agricultural employees. As the second-most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, Michigan farmers understand how Farm Bureau membership pays for itself with a wide array of valuable benefits," said Wenkel.

Those benefits bring the latest agriculture information to the organization's membership, with specialists in all commodities, policy and communication. MFB members work to develop grassroots policy, lobbied in the state and national legislature on their behalf. Young Farmer programs provide networking opportunities and leadership development to members ages 18 to 35. In addition, MFB assists farmers in sharing their stories with the non-farming public.

Ninety-nine percent of Michigan farms are family owned and operated; and this year, MFB added some exciting new benefits with direct appeal to these families. The most popular new benefit is a discount on Detroit Zoo tickets. Within the first month of the new benefit, MFB members bought more than 200 zoo tickets. Also new are discounts at Great Wolf Lodge hotel and resort in Sandusky, Ohio; a payroll service for businesses; Cabela's merchandise discounts; cash bonus savings on eligible Ford vehicles, and many other travel and equipment discounts.

Wenkel said MFB's emphasis on sustaining and growing Michigan's diverse $71.3 billion agriculture industry is another draw for regular and associate members alike.

"Our farmer members enjoy unique services designed to help them remain profitable and successful so that they can continue farming and carry on their agricultural businesses for generations to come. This goal of agricultural sustainability is also important to our non-farmer associate members, who care about food safety, who want access to local food, and who recognize and appreciate how integral agriculture is to Michigan's economy and our state's future," said Wenkel.

Wenkel credits much of the membership campaign's success to the army of members statewide who spearhead local, volunteer-driven membership campaigns, including local "kickoff" events that expose prospective members to the value of MFB membership. Through these events, 433 volunteers signed 730 new regular members. In addition, 49 county Farm Bureaus achieved regular membership growth quotas and 22 county Farm Bureaus experienced growth in total membership (regular and associate combined.)

"The number of volunteers working on membership campaigns grows each year, too," said Wenkel. "You can't get a better endorsement than existing members wanting to share the benefits of Farm Bureau membership with their neighbors, family, friends, and community at large."