Heading north from Mayfield on U.S. 45, the piece of land to the right of the last stop light before getting to Fristoe's and the Kentucky State Police post in Hickory was once the site of a major economic engine for west Kentucky and certainly for Graves County.
The General Tire manufacturing plant was built and opened around 1960 and closed down in 2007. Its shell remained for several years after, then eventually was torn down.
But fast forward nearly 60 years since its opening and construction is taking place just across the highway from the former engine on what will hopefully be a new one that has deep roots in the local "agri"-culture.
Massive concrete panels, poured on site and set into place by a colossal crane, have formed GenCanna's Jackson Purchase hemp production facility, which will be the next step for some 4,500 acres of hemp plants being grown on local farmlands.
GenCanna executive chairman Steve Bevan recently provided a tour for The Mayfield Messenger to describe the flow of the operation to extract CBD (cannabidiol) from the hemp floral material to produce popular oils, lotions and powders.
With eyes on a mid-October first harvest, the process from delivery, drying, processing, extraction and refining at the new plant facility is a speedy one, according to Bevan, because, in farming, time is of the essence.
Along with the construction of the physical plant has been the work of a new entranceway onto the site from U.S. 45 for farmers to transport their harvest to the site. The structure nearest the highway is a weigh station, similar to other crop processing and holding facilities. But along with weight, the station will also have a probe to check the contents' moisture and CBD levels.
Once checked, the transport moves to a four-bay building to transfer the hemp by conveyer to large silos. There, it will be placed in motion inside the silos before pneumatic tubes move the hemp into dryers heated by three large steam boilers in the middle of the plant facility, with capacity for more.
After drying, Bevan explained, the hemp product is fed through grinders to break up the material before being moved into one of a four-silo set for storage all within a 24-hour period.
The GenCanna facility was originally announced at $40 million in February, but later that figure expanded to more than $60 million by company chief operating officer Richard Drennen during a Graves County Economic Development announcement of local investments in May.
It typifies what can possibly grow from hemp, GenCanna and Graves County.
"We're building all this and we might not need a couple of these things, but it provides us with better capacity going forward," Bevan said.
Based in Winchester, Kentucky, GenCanna is connected with local farmers.
The Mayfield production facility has 56 family farm partners under contract this initial growing year. Bevan said that there is still planting underway due to wet conditions earlier in the season, but the company and farmers have taken a pro rata approach.
"That's why you've seen guys plant here one week and another week and another week," he said to try and mitigate any problem from affecting the whole harvest. "That's really important we let the farmers have a positive first experience. It's hard enough farming, let alone a brand new crop."
But it is a crop with potential. Bevan said countries around the world have used hemp for fiber products but haven't made floral products; so American products are being sought after on an international scale.
With CBD products leading the way, ancillary byproducts may go into protein from hemp seeds, fibers and even plastics and biomass products.
"There's so much to learn and so much to grow, literally and figuratively," he said.
Ad campaignpressures McConnellto act on guns
By Lesley Clark
For the Lexington Herald-Leader
WASHINGTON -- Amid protests outside his house and taunts from late night comedians, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is about to become a focus of a six-figure TV ad campaign in Kentucky and Colorado by a leading gun control advocacy group that wants to pressure him to schedule a speedy Senate vote to expand background checks.
Giffords, the gun control organization founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was wounded in a 2011 shooting that left six people dead, will spend nearly $750,000 on the two ads, which began airing this weekend.
The ads criticize McConnell and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans up for re-election in 2020, for blocking a background check bill passed in February by the Democratic-controlled House.
"You've got Senate Majority Leader McConnell and one of his compliant allies who, despite this daily toll of gun violence, have refused to act," said Peter Ambler, Giffords executive director. "We're in a situation where the nation is grieving from two horrible mass shootings that happened within 24 hours and Americans are wondering why despite this gun violence crisis. McConnell, Gardner and the others haven't moved."
The Kentucky ad features a voice-over of a young girl writing to McConnell, asking him to "end your vacation early" and return to Washington.
"Since you're in charge of the Senate, can't you do something to keep these shootings from happening all the time?" the girl asks in the 30-second spot that urges viewers to call McConnell to ask for a vote.
The ads come as gun control advocacy groups and Democrats seek to push McConnell, who, like many Republicans, has urged caution on gun control legislation in the wake of weekend mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, that killed at least 31 people.
McConnell has rejected calls to return to Washington immediately to take up House legislation to expand background checks for most gun purchases. He told a Louisville radio station on Thursday that it would be a mistake because "we'd just have people scoring political points and nothing would happen."
But he told radio station WHAS 840 Thursday that he had spoken with President Donald Trump and that they are both "anxious to get an outcome" and pass some version of gun control legislation after Congress returns to Washington in September.
"When we get back, hopefully, we'll be able to come together and actually pass something," McConnell said in the radio interview. "I want to make a law, not just see this kind of political sparring going on endlessly which never produces a result."
Robert Steurer, a spokesman for McConnell, declined Friday to elaborate beyond McConnell's remarks on Thursday.
Democrats are worried that momentum will slow in three weeks and lawmakers' attention will turn elsewhere. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said they talked to Trump on Thursday after McConnell and told the president that "the best way forward" to address gun violence is for the Senate to pass the House bill.
Schumer discounted McConnell's remarks, saying that the majority leader has only said that there will be talks: "To get anything meaningful done to address gun violence, we need his commitment to hold a Senate vote on the House-passed background checks legislation," Schumer tweeted Friday.
WKU will host nation's drought experts next month
By Aaron Mudd
Bowling Green Daily News
Between tornadoes, floods, earthquakes and wildfires, droughts probably wouldn't top anyone's list of the most devastating natural disasters.
But State Climatologist Stuart Foster, director of the Kentucky Climate Center, said that kind of thinking can make for a costly mistake.
Agriculture is always the first sector hit, with the loss of soil moisture hampering productivity, and if droughts last long enough to drain streams and reservoirs, they can threaten water supplies.
But those are only a few of its effects, he said.
"The impacts can actually be pretty far-reaching and run into some high dollar amounts," Foster said.
Between Sept. 17 and 19, the Knicely Conference Center at Western Kentucky University will host scientists and policymakers from across the nation for the biennial U.S. Drought Monitor forum.
It's the first time WKU has hosted the conference.
Foster said it's an opportunity to share local drought concerns with scientists and drought experts associated with federal agencies responsible for publishing the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor. Attendees could range from government agency representatives to local utilities and extension office employees. WKU is co-hosting the conference with the Kentucky Division of Water.
Released every Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor is a map that shows parts of the nation that are in drought and what level of drought they're in.
To be clear, it's not a forecast. It actually looks backward by tracking how much precipitation did or didn't fall up to the Tuesday morning before the map is released. It's used by several federal agencies for planning purposes, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which uses it to trigger disaster declarations and eligibility for low-interest loans, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Unlike in the western part of the U.S., where droughts develop slowly and last years, Foster said droughts in our region tend to be shorter but can develop and intensify rapidly. Many droughts last only a few months here, but their relatively mild nature doesn't add to the public's understanding of them.
"Droughts are probably one of the most poorly understood natural hazards that's related to weather and climate," Foster said.
Unlike the effects of a tornado or a flood, which are measurable right away, a drought isn't alway instantly perceivable. But that doesn't stop it from having devastating effects. Depleted soil moisture can damage infrastructure, including cracking the foundation of a building, and lower water levels can affect shipping along rivers, Foster said.
"It's sometimes referred to as the creeping hazard," Foster said.
Kentucky has dealt with a significant drought since 2012, but drought experts predict the state is more likely to become prone to shorter but intense droughts, accompanied by more severe droughts. Foster called these "flash droughts."