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LINCOLN — The sower is front and center on Nebraska's new license plates.

Unveiled Tuesday, the design for the new plates is the first to feature the iconic statue from atop the state Capitol — an image that is "absolutely unique" to Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts said during a news conference at the statehouse.

Beginning in January, some 5.2 million of the plates will begin to replace the meadowlark-and-goldenrod models bolted to bumpers across the state since 2011. Those old plates should be phased out within a year.

Ricketts called the new design "beautiful."

"This brings in a lot of the themes of Nebraska and is a great way for us to brand our state," he said.

The sower is flanked by the years 1867 and 2017 in navy blue, a nod to the state's sesquicentennial. And "NEBRASKA" is printed in gold-colored lettering across the top over a navy background, mirroring the colors on the state flag.

License plate numbers will appear in black, making them easier for law enforcement to read, Ricketts said.

State law requires new plates be issued every six years.

The new plates will mark the 57th standard design produced since 1915, when the state first started printing them, said Department of Motor Vehicles Director Rhonda Lahm.

Including specialty plates, Nebraska has 69 plate designs — with more on the way.

Mountain lion protection plates will become available Oct. 1 after the Legislature approved them this year, and lawmakers are debating whether to allow for "choose life" and breast cancer awareness plates next year.

The new standard design was crafted in-house at the DMV with help from 3M, the state's license plate vendor.

Previous designs had been selected with public input, most recently using an online poll.

But Ricketts said he took office with too little time for his staff to follow a similar process for next year's plates.

"There simply wasn't time to be able to do that."

The online process was also "gamed" last time, the governor said, with the comedy website encouraging its users to skew the results in favor of a "boring" design that was jettisoned later.

The sower image used on the new plates comes from one of those earlier competitions, the governor said.

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