ASHTABULA -- Farmers in Northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania are being recruited to grow a special grass that can be converted to biofuel energy.
Some are already planting miscanthus, a durable grass that won't spread and requiries little fertilizer and care. It can be harvested and converted to energy pellets and biofuels, like ethanol and other kinds of fuel.
Aloterra Energy has set up its new energy project headquarters on a leased farm in Conneaut.
It plans to build a biomass conversion plant near Ashtabula Harbor and predicts that with support companies, 1,200 jobs will be created.
Ashtabula County has lost manufacturing jobs and many farmers in the area have been struggling.
Aloterra is partnered in three similar plants in Missouri and Arkansas, but Ashtabula's will be the largest.
$200 million of economic impact is projected for all four plants.
Aloterra Spokesman Scott Coye-Huhn said, "The government needs energy crops in the ground yesterday. Over the last several years, they realized this country needs millions of acres of energy crops and we have none."
The Agriculture Department just released details of a plan to make $5.7 million this year to encourage farmers to grow miscanthus on underused land around Ashtabula County.
Under the program, farmers selected will get up to 75 percent of their costs to start a perennial crop. It will also provide 5 years of annual payments on acres enrolled and provide matching payments up to $45 a ton for two years on harvested biomass.
Farm Service Agency staffer Darlene Costilow said ,"Since the Department of Agriculture made the announcement, our phone has been ringing off the hook."
Farmer Terry Lowe signed up, calling this a chance to diversify. He's converting 25 acres now growing hay.
"With the incentives, I think there's the opportunity to have a 20-year crop," he said.
Aloterra credits Ohio Congressman Steve LaTourette and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown with helping it get selected.
LaTourette said, "It has the opportunity to be a clean-burning fuel and reduce our reliance on foreign energy and create jobs. I don't know how you would get a better story."
Those who are interested in the program can get more information from Aloterra's Scott Coye-Huhn at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 440-666-2053.
The deadline to sign up is Sept 1.
Coye-Huhn says the project has investors and will happen with or without additional years of funding by Congress.