MURRAY – As hemp processing company GenCanna works to construct its newest facility in Graves County, its president is working to build relationships with Murray State University, a well-known name in Kentucky’s growing hemp industry.

GenCanna president Steve Bevan said he’s been in talks with Tony Brannon, dean of MSU’s Hutson School of Agriculture, to find “commonalities” with the university on how to best drive the industry forward.

“The end goal is to improve the rural economy – more and better crops that are available to folks that will farm hemp with us means the rest of the value chain benefits,” Bevan said.

While he couldn’t go into specifics, as a proper deal hasn’t yet been announced, Bevan hinted at possible research opportunities.

Brannon described the possible collaboration as “mutually beneficial sponsorships and activities.”

“We’ve had a couple very beneficial meetings last Friday, and (Assistant Dean Brian Parr) visited GenCanna on Tuesday. We’re continuing those discussions and it looks very promising for some cooperation and collaboration starting as soon as possible. They’re a very good company to work with and we look forward to them advancing agriculture in the Purchase Region.”

GenCanna announced this week it had developed non-GMO hemp genetics with 0 percent THC through research with the University of Kentucky.

The company is based in central Kentucky, and it’s primarily centered on processing hemp for its cannabidiol, which is sold as CBD oil.

The company announced late last year that it would expand its operations by constructing a $40 million plant in Hickory.

“We spent a lot of time in other parts of the U.S. and even internationally, and we quickly came to understand that things were still the very best in Kentucky, so we decided that the western part of the state was an awesome way to diversity,” Bevan said.

He said GenCanna supplies several major CBD brands across the country, but he felt it was important to support the local economy and its farmers.

“We’d like to produce more and create more of that value here in Kentucky,” Bevan said. “So we have Kentucky jobs with Kentucky production and with brands that are based out of Kentucky.”

The new facility will process and dry the crop before processing it for its CBD. The plant will work “hand in glove” with an upcoming location in Paducah that will in part serve as a retail location.

Bevan said the Graves County facility will work with local farmers in a 50-mile radius for now, with plans to expand in the future. He said that would include Calloway County hemp farmers.

“We’ve helped a lot of folks locally through the KDA (Kentucky Department of Agriculture) application process,” he said. “We’re very happy to report that while KDA has done a great job in processing hemp applications this year, every single one of our farmers got approved. We’re amazed.”

The company is working to build its Certified Farming Network, which is its program to collaborate with local growers. Phase one is this year, followed by an expansion rollout to the Delta region soon to follow.

Bevan said the program works closely with farmers, providing them “recipes” to make sure the learning curve is as smooth as possible.

“It’s really important that farmers do well,” Bevan said.

The new facility will employ about 80 people, ranging from agricultural technicians to CDL drivers, operations managers and much more. Graves County Economic Development has listed some of those positions on its website, gravescountyed.com/jobs/.

Bevan said the hemp industry has grown significantly over GenCanna since it was a part of Kentucky’s hemp pilot programs in 2014. He attributed much of that to Kentucky politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul, congressmen James Comer and Andy Barr and Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles.

The latest Farm Bill was a boon for the industry as well, removing hemp from being listed under the Controlled Substances Act while clearly defining it as a crop.

“These are all Kentucky ideas,” Bevan said. “They’re all ideas that were received well by Leader McConnell and his staff, and they came from Kentucky farmers and hemp participants.”

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