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Associated Press Plants would create jobs, says candidate

GREAT FALLS - U.S. Senate candidate Brian Schweitzer proposes building 20 ethanol plants across Montana, and says they would create jobs and help revitalize the state's economy.

At a news conference here Thursday, Schweitzer proposed building the plants with the help of government-backed loans, and operating the plants cooperatively.

The co-ops would guarantee farmers $1 per gallon of ethanol produced from their wheat or barley. One bushel of barley produces 21/2 gallons of ethanol. A farmer selling barley to the local ethanol cooperative would get $2.50 per bushel. At most grain elevators, the going rate is $1.61 per bushel.

Schweitzer said a facility producing 100 million gallons of ethanol a year would create 2,250 jobs for a single community, according to estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"The bottom line is to fundamentally change the direction of agriculture from what we've had for the last 60 years," said Schweitzer, a Whitefish farmer running against John Driscoll of Butte in the Democratic primary for the Senate. The winner will challenge Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., in the general election this fall.

The profit in a successful ethanol venture is not necessarily in the fuel, but in the high-protein grain byproduct used as animal feed, said Robert Leigland, acting state director for rural development in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Promoters of a $300 million ethanol plant planned for Great Falls have struggled for nine years to get it off the ground.

Schweitzer said government assistance would make his plan workable. He proposes seeking low-interest, long-term bank guarantees from the government-run Commodity Credit Corp.

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