OLR Research Report

February 11, 2004




By: Sarah Black, Legislative Fellow

You asked for information on Massachusetts farm license plates that can be transferred between vehicles.


Farmers in Massachusetts are eligible for general registrations and general registration plates. A farmer who meets the eligibility requirements receives one registration number and multiple plates with this same number. These plates can be used on, and transferred among, the registrant's farm vehicles. However, they may not be used on passenger vehicles.


Under Massachusetts law, people in certain occupations, including farmers, are eligible for general motor vehicle registrations and general registration license plates. These plates, sometimes called Section 5 plates, are available to farmers, manufacturers, dealers, repairmen, recreational vehicle and trailer dealers, boat and boat trailer dealers, owner-contractors, transporters, and forest product harvesters (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, 5).

The statute is not specific as to the transferability of the plates or their use on multiple vehicles. The main part of the statute simply states that “the registrar may issue general registrations and general registration number plates in such form as he determines” to anyone who meets the eligibility requirements (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, 5). General registrations and general registration plates are not defined in the definitions section of Chapter 90. Similarly, the regulations implementing the statute are vague on transferability and do not define this type of registration or plate (Mass. Regs. Code Tit. 540, 18.00).

While the statute and regulations do not directly address transferability, “FAQ About General Registrations,” a Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) publication, provides clearer information. According to the RMV, the main benefit of a general registration plate is that it does not have to be used on one specific vehicle. Instead, the registrant receives a limited number of license plates, each having the same registration number. For example, a farmer who is given farm registration number 123 would receive a set of plates labeled Farm 123A, Farm 123B, Farm 123C, etc. Plates can be shared among farm vehicles if the vehicles are not used simultaneously. Thus, if a farmer has 10 farm vehicles but only uses five at any given time, he only needs five plates. Sharing saves costs as there is a flat fee for the registration number, plus a per plate cost (FAQs About General Registrations).


In order to qualify for a general farm registration, an applicant must meet the definition of farmer. By law, a farmer is a “person substantially engaged in the occupation of farming.” Farming is “the tillage or use of the soil to raise food for man or beast, the raising of tobacco, or the propagation and growing of trees, shrubs, vines and plants for transplanting and sale” (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, 1).

The applicant can prove that he is substantially engaged in farming in a variety of ways. For example, he is substantially engaged in farming if at least 40% of his income is derived from farming. Alternatively, he can show that farming produced a gross income of at least $1,000 or a net loss of at least $2,000 in the prior year. Finally, an applicant is substantially engaged in farming if his property is classified as a farm under Massachusetts tax laws. These specific requirements are included on the general farm registration application. A copy of the application is attached.

To qualify for a general farm registration, the farming must be for an “ultimate commercial purpose” including for profit, nonprofit, or charitable purposes. Additionally, for general registrations issued after 1997, the applicant must have at least five acres of property devoted to farming (Mass. Regs. Code Tit. 540, 18.02(2)(d)).


General farm registration plates may be used only on farm vehicles. A farm vehicle must be principally used for farming and dedicated to carrying on a farm-related activity. The plates may not be used on passenger vehicles (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, 5). To be eligible for a general registration, the farmer must own two or more vehicles used for and dedicated to farming (Mass. Regs. Code Tit. 540, 18.02(2)(d)).

A vehicle with a general registration plate must also have a compliance decal showing proof of payment of taxes and title fees. However, farming vehicles classified as implements of husbandry are exempt from the decal requirement (Mass. Regs. Code Tit. 540, 18.03).