Motorists traveling the highways of Oregon can learn about agriculture in the near future when new crop identification signs are erected as part of an educational effort by the Agri-Business Council of Oregon in Portland.

Between now and next spring, there could be hundreds of signs posted on farms located along major thoroughfares around the state, sure to answer the question, "I wonder what is growing in that field right there?"

"These signs are a great opportunity to show the traveling public what a tremendous and unique diversity of crops we have in this state," says Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture in Salem. "ODA is a big supporter of efforts to teach the public more about an important sector of Oregon's economy. If people know a little more about what we produce, they are better able to appreciate the efforts of our farmers and ranchers."

Chances are motorists have already noticed the older white signs with green lettering that identify the crop in the field. The sign program actually began in the early 1980s when Oregon Women for Agriculture started putting up signs on their own farms in the central Willamette Valley.

Those teaching tools became so popular that other producers wanted to erect signs on their own farms. When the task of providing and coordinating an increasing number of crop identification signs became too large, the Agri-Business Council took over.

A newly designed crop sign is now available and is re-energizing the effort. By the end of the summer, motorists will see them.

"Ultimately, we're trying to educate all Oregonians—not just urban residents—about the vast diversity of product grown in our state," says ABC executive director Geoff Horning. "The dimensions of the sign will be the same as in the past, but a visual component is part of the redesign. There will be an actual picture of the crop as well as the lettering, so that a sign posted in a field of alfalfa, for example, will include artwork as well as the name of the crop being grown. Motorists can easily see the lettering on the sign at 65 miles per hour, but the picture will enhance the identification."

The Agri-Business Council is still developing a plan to strategically place the signs, but it is expected that Interstate 5 and I-84 will be major targets—as long as there is agriculture next to the right-of-way. Individual farmers not living along the freeways are not excluded from the program. Producers can purchase the signs for $43.50 each, plus shipping and handling costs, and place them where they wish. The farmers are responsible for maintaining the signs throughout the year.

With more than 225 different commodities found in the state, it is unrealistic to think that crop identification signs will be posted for everything that grows in Oregon. But there are as many as three dozen different crops produced along a 45-mile stretch of I-5 between Portland and Salem alone. Travelers can expect many of them to be identified by signs within the next year.