Do I need to renew my membership?

WISHEK, N.D. -- My membership renewal form for North Dakota Farm Bureau sat on my kitchen counter for a few weeks. It was already earmarked "late," but I was wrestling with the decision to renew my membership with the organization, as well as others.

Katie Pinke

WISHEK, N.D. - My membership renewal form for North Dakota Farm Bureau sat on my kitchen counter for a few weeks. It was already earmarked “late,” but I was wrestling with the decision to renew my membership with the organization, as well as others.

What is my value as a Farm Bureau member? Do I reap the value at my county, state or national level, or is it the insurance or bonus perks such as $300 off an equipment purchase? What about my membership to a local political party affiliation where I’m often the youngest by two decades?

Amid a down economy, not everyone will be able to afford membership renewal to each organization. The organization that evolves as the industry leads, engages members, advocates on their behalf, builds lasting relationships and ultimately adds value in multiple layers for a diverse membership will win for a next generation.

Agriculture is different today. It was different for my parents’ generation compared with my grandparents. It will change again for our children’s generation.

Between the ages of 35 and 55, engagement and even membership drops for most of my friends. I’ve heard firsthand from people who didn’t want to be part of Farm Bureau because their farm or ag business doesn’t “fit” the mold. The organization hasn’t evolved with the changing dynamics of the industry. It doesn’t help that many membership-driven organizations don’t welcome new members to take on leadership roles.


Rumors that everyone on my county Farm Bureau board had resigned caused me to pause and think about my membership. How can a disorderly organization advocate on my behalf? The chaos waters down the effectiveness of my state Farm Bureau to affect policy. For me, though, making my voice heard on policy matters isn’t dependent on my Farm Bureau membership. I take the initiative to reach out to my specific legislators on issues that matter to me. I also occasionally email all state legislators.

Advocacy goes beyond politics, though. What are you passionate about and how do your membership affiliations advance your passions?

Relationships are the lifeblood of an organization - they bring energy and positive change.

My husband, son and I recently attended an Oak Ridge Boys concert. One of the opening songs was “Touch a Hand, Make a Friend.” The lyrics of the 30-plus-year-old song hit me. Roll your eyes if you’d like, but how are you building relationships and encouraging a young farmer to join or engage in an organization? He or she needs you to be a friend, and it starts with a solid handshake and an invitation. Friendship will follow.

Why is change important? The legacy of a membership organization can’t continue without a next generation. You can be the agent of change by:

  • Taking charge and setting an example. Create tangible ways for a new generation to serve - men and women who can recruit and retain new and existing members. Encourage new members to challenge the status quo.

  • Ask how to get involved if you’ve been sitting on the sidelines. Don’t be afraid to ask questions either.

  • Quit griping or ranting. Get in the trenches and work behind the scenes. An organization doesn’t succeed with a membership that only wants to handle media interviews or show up at the big events.

I’ve seen a shift in our community organizations where these changes have been successfully implemented. On the flipside, I keynoted a recent statewide soil conservation meeting where an auxiliary member pleaded for more members to be active because only two were participating. If more members don’t start taking a more active role, the soil conservation auxiliary will disband.
Other membership organizations will face a similar situation in coming years.

There are fewer people living and working in rural communities and many sectors of the agriculture industry, not to mention more choices when deciding how to spend our time. Members of all ages, but particularly my generation, are worn thin on the elitists’ perceptions. Rather than pay their membership dues and sit through meetings for a chance to have a voice, they just don’t renew at the end of the year.

A friend told me membership ties to Farm Bureau, or in other cases Farmer’s Union, can make it harder to rent land. Affiliation draws too many lines, and don’t get started on the politics. It’s easier to disengage and remain neutral than chance an opportunity to rent or buy land. What a sad situation for younger farmers and organizations.


A second farmer friend recently said he thinks he can make a greater difference by serving on local boards instead of participating on the state or national level. I can see that in my own life and have decided if I only have time to engage on one level, it will be locally.

I paid for a one-year North Dakota Farmer’s Union membership a few years ago after I spoke at a dynamic women’s leadership conference. North Dakota Farmer’s Union membership is second in the nation with 45,500 members, compared to 27,000 at North Dakota Farm Bureau membership. No one in my county ever contacted or invited me to a local Farmer’s Union event. The state organization never sent me a renewal notice, but I received their magazine for a year. Needless to say, I didn’t renew. Regardless of the few relationships I built, there wasn’t enough value for me to justify renewing my membership.

Yes, I realize it’s not all about me. I’ve heard the “quit whining and show up” argument, as well. I do show up to as many meetings as possible, but I need to trust the organization to be a voice for me. I won’t pay a token membership fee for no value.

Rather than point a finger at what everyone else is doing wrong, we need to have forward-thinking, honest dialogue on the future of membership-driven organizations, not only in agriculture but across our communities, states and nation. I know political parties and many membership-driven organizations are scratching their heads and venting about this very challenge, but when will action happen?

I put my Farm Bureau membership through the filter: Is the organization evolving as the industry leads, truly engaging myself and other members, advocating on my behalf, helping me build lasting relationships and ultimately adding value in multiple layers for a diverse membership? Yes, I’ve experienced tangible value at the county level through agriculture education and outreach events, and at the state level through lasting relationships and the Young Farmers and Ranchers program. At the national level, I’ve spoken on panels and at educational sessions and have had opportunities to participate in policy-driven initiatives.

I renewed my North Dakota Farm Bureau membership for $50. Rather than wondering and gossiping about whether my county Farm Bureau board will pick up the pieces and rebuild, I called my district representative and offered to help the next time there’s a county meeting. If I choose to disengage, I’m part of the problem not the solution. I want to be a voice and part of a next-generation solution that helps pave a future for our communities and industries.

Send your thoughts to or find me on Twitter @katpinke. Watch for an in-depth series that will tackle this ongoing discussion on Agweek and AgweekTV in 2017.

Editor’s note: Pinke is the Agweek general manager and publisher.

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