Of the 44 counties in Idaho, 36 of them meet Commerce Department definitions for being rural. But surprisingly, in recent years, Idaho’s agriculture-themed license plate is being adopted most quickly by urban areas that are eager to help show their pride for the state’s farming and ranching industry and to be a part of it in at least some small way.
Idaho’s red, white, and blue agriculture specialty plate was launched in 2000 and still carries the original design created by graphic designer Lisa Wilson, whose husband worked for Northwest Farm Credit, which today is AgWest Farm Credit. The design features green fields, a red barn with silo, a house, and rolling grain fields.
Revenue from the plates benefit Idaho Agriculture in the Classroom, a statewide program to integrate agriculture education into the school curriculum for students K-12. The money from the plates are used for such things as curriculum development, curriculum purchase, and workshops for teachers.
“The program teaches students in Idaho where their food and fiber come from,” said Rick Waitley, state director for Ag in the Classroom.
Waitley was a lobbyist involved in the creation of the ag plate legislation. He said he was approached by a state senator who had seen a similar plate in Florida and wanted to bring that concept to the Gem State. Over the years, there have also been other ag- and natural resources-themed plates — including a potato plate, rangeland plate, 4-H plate, and forest products plate — but the one that supports Ag in the Classroom has stood out as the most universal and perhaps iconic.
“We’ve got a brochure that we place in all of the offices where people go to buy a plate that tells about the program,” Waitley said. “We really are seeing a lot more plates being sold at this point.”
For the first year, an ag plate costs $35 plus the regular registration fees. In each additional year, the plate costs $25. Twenty-five dollars of the fee the first year and $15 from each renewal from the specialty plate is deposited in the Ag in the Classroom fund. It is available only for passenger vehicles.
To show appreciation for those who buy the plates, Waitley said that the organization often distributes small orange cards that read, “We Spotted Your Ag Plate!!! Thank you for supporting Idaho Agriculture in the Classroom!”
“I just put those underneath windshield wipers,” he said. “I’ve seen people grab it, thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got some ticket for something. What’s this about?’ And then they read that, and they’re just like, ‘Oh wow, this is great!’ They love that.”
Idaho might be most known for its potatoes, but the roughly 24,600 farms in the state produce 196 commodities, with major ones aside from potatoes being beef cattle, hay, wheat, milk, barley, and sugar beets.
Several companies in Idaho — especially those in the ag industry, such as seed companies, fertilizer companies, and credit companies — even offer incentives (like paying for a portion of the plate) to employees who choose to have an ag plate on their vehicles.
The Ag in the Classroom funding can be used to “teach the teachers,” meaning that ag educators are given the tools to reach the younger generation. Especially at the middle and high school level, teachers may get to work with anywhere from 90 to 120 kids each year about agriculture’s impact on the industry.
And lawmakers continue to be on board supporting the license-plate legislation. Annually, through an organization known as the Food Producers of Idaho, state legislators can be honored for having a voting record that supports agriculture and natural resource issues — dubbing these lawmakers Ag All-Stars.
In the first year, the lawmakers are recognized, and they get an ag plate mounted on a wooden background that says “ALSTR.” In subsequent years, they’re awarded a smaller plate with the year of recognition designated on it. For perspective, during a breakfast ceremony held this month, 42 of Idaho’s 105 legislators were presented with mounted plates.
“I doubt that very many other states have something like that,” Waitley said. “But it just happened that when we developed the plate, this seemed like a natural award to give. And, the lawmakers really put pride in that.”
This is part of a state-by-state series from AGDAILY that highlights agriculture-themed license plates across the nation. Read more articles from the series here.