For more than three-quarters of a century, Wisconsin’s license plates have been stamped with the “America’s Dairyland” label.
Though drivers now have a host of special plate options, the default since 1940 remains a testament to the state’s dairy industry.
Kurt Bauer, executive director of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, recently questioned the relevance of the slogan. He initially brought up the idea last year in a column run in the WMC publication “Wisconsin Business Voice.”
“Wisconsinites are known as ‘Cheeseheads,’ ” Bauer wrote. “There is a barn, silo and the phrase ‘America’s Dairyland’ on our license plates. We put a cow, corncob and a wheel of cheese on our state quarter.
“We also put on that quarter our state motto; forward. But is our agricultural-dominated state moving in that direction?”
That may be up for debate, but the dairy industry’s critical role in the state is not.
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The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board this summer highlighted the importance of the industry to the Badger State. Findings included:
• Dairy contributes $43.4 billion dollars to the state’s economy.
• Wisconsin has 9,520 licensed dairy farms and 1.28 million dairy cows.
• The state produces 3.17 billion pounds of cheese, accounting for 26.2 percent of the United States total.
• Ninety-six percent of dairy farms in Wisconsin are family owned.
• From 2006 to 2016, milk production in the state of Wisconsin increased by 28.7 percent, and cheese production by 29.1 percent.
Nevertheless, at the time of this writing state Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukesha, was seeking cosponsers for a bill that would call for replacing “America’s Dairyland” on license plates with a slogan culled from a contest among high school students. The 10 best designs would be determined, and the governor would pick a winner from that group.
“I think it will be absolutely fascinating to see how our young people think and how they would like to see us positioned in the state and advertised across the country,” Allen said in a Wisconsin State Journal story.
“If they want to incorporate America’s Dairyland into their design, they can. If they want to come up with a whole new design, a whole new slogan, they can do that as well.”
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The Dairy Business Association wrote to state legislators in response to Allen’s proposal. Mike North, DBA president, didn’t mince words in criticizing the effort.
“This legislation ... would discredit our heritage, insult those responsible for one of our state’s most powerful economic sectors and foolishly undermine our state’s brand image,” he wrote.
“We have a brand,” North continued. “It is viewed positively by the overwhelming majority of people. We have spent more than a century and a lot effort and money to create this brand. It does not make sense to back away from it.”
We lean toward retaining the “America’s Dairyland” message on Wisconsin license plates. It’s patriotic and is highly recognizable.
Also, it’s hard to imagine a suitable replacement. “State with a wonderful quality of life, friendly people, strong schools, abundant recreational opportunities and a skilled workforce,” simply wouldn’t fit.
“Wisconsin needs to craft an image that accurately reflects and promotes our high quality of life and economic diversity,” Bauer wrote last year.
That’s hard to do in a few words. Dairy is a critical pillar in Wisconsin’s economy, and it just seems as though this is an attempt to fix something that clearly isn’t broken.