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State hopes to grow future farmers with new plates

California's newest specialized plate, which will be available in March, shows a sunburst over a field of crops with the slogan, "food, fiber, fuel, flora." It costs $50 through the California DMV and $40 each following year to renew. Most of the proceeds will go to a grant program administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture to support farming and ranching educational groups such as local chapters of 4H and the National FFA Organization. California DMV/Courtesy photo

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From page A15 | March 03, 2013 |

By Stacy Finz

California may be known for its exceptional surf, its fine weather and, of course, Hollywood, but there is one more thing the state wants to be known for, and it’s taking to the highways and byways to get the message out.

Starting in March, there will be a new California agriculture license plate on the road, celebrating the state’s contribution to food production. With $43.5 billion in output, California is the largest farm state in the nation.

The specialized plate, the first new one in 11 years, shows a sunburst over a field of crops with the slogan, “food, fiber, fuel, flora.” It costs $50 through the California DMV and $40 each following year to renew.

Most of the proceeds — the DMV takes $18.05 from each plate for administrative costs — will go to a grant program administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture to support farming and ranching educational groups such as local chapters of 4H and the National FFA Organization.

“It will help develop our next generation of farmers,” said Steve Lyle, a spokesman for the food and agriculture department, adding that it also will help brand California as the leading agriculture state. “Not everyone recognizes it.”

As the average age of California farmers inches up to 60, there is concern over who will replace them. Lyle said he’s hopeful that the money generated from the new plates and the promotion of California’s agricultural image will build interest in farming careers.

Bob Heuvel, program manager for agriculture and home economics programs with the California Department of Education and the state adviser to the FFA, said the money from the plate sales will help fill a void created by state budget cuts.

“Last year we lost $230,000 in state funding that went to career technical student organizations such as the FFA,” he said. “This will be used to sustain these programs.”

Heuvel said FFA students and agriculture educators solicited pre-sales of the specialty plate for two years. State law requires that 7,500 people pre-order a new plate before the state approves it.

“They worked really hard on this,” he said. “In the past, we probably haven’t done the best job marketing our greatest asset. It’s really good to get the message of how important our agricultural contributions are and make the public aware.”

— Reach Stacy Finz at sfinz@sfchronicle.com

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