Editor's Note: This is the Field Notes column, written by editor Vicky Boyd and published in the April 2013 issue of Citrus + Vegetable Magazine.

Tough economic times recently have taken a toll on sales of the agricultural-themed specialty license plate dubbed the “ag tag.”

Sales since 2009 have dropped by about 3 percent, although in 2012 they increased to 15,733 from 15,623 in 2011, says Lisa Gaskala, executive director of the Gainesville-based Florida Ag in the Classroom, which benefits from ag tag sales.

To try to figure out how to better market the tag and ultimately increase sales, Ag in the Classroom will conduct focus groups around the state this month with both ag tag buyers and non-ag tag buyers, she says.

If you’re not familiar with Ag in the Classroom, it provides teaching materials, workshops and lesson plans free to teachers so they can better educate the next generation about the importance of agriculture.

Last year, for example, it provided $122,000 in mini-grants to state schools as part of the school garden program. Not only do students learn how to grow their own food, but teachers also incorporate gardening into various curriculums.

Ag tag proceeds allow the non-profit Ag in the Classroom to seek grants or other types of partnerships that might require matching funds, so they can stretch the money.

Gaskala says the slow decline in ag tag sales began in 2009 when the state more than doubled to $28 what it charges for a new metal plate as well as increasing administrative fees to $5 from $2.

“Now it’s $53 for the ag tag, and that’s more than a lot of people right now in these economic times can afford,” she says.

Renewing an ag tag costs $25 more per year than a regular tag. Of that, $20 goes to Ag in the Classroom, and $5 is a state administrative fee.

Ag in the Classroom isn’t the only non-profit that benefit s from tag sales. Gaskala said numerous other charitable groups, ranging from Save the Manatees to the University of Florida Foundation, also profit from specialty tags.

“We’re all private charities, and it’s a way that folks around the state can choose a non-profit group and show their support of that cause,” she says. Tag sales also provide the groups with funds that they’d have to otherwise find ways to raise.

What better way to show your support of agriculture than with an ag tag on the back of your vehicle.

For more information about Florida Ag in the Classroom, visit http://www.flagintheclassroom.com.