Willcox, Ariz., is known as the birthplace of Rex Allen, the film actor, singer, and songwriter who was memorialized with a star on the infamous Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Today, the Willcox area has another upcoming star; an alfalfa industry in the spotlight for its high-quality dairy hay production. The reasons for the notoriety include cooler temperatures and water management among other factors.

“Cooler nighttime temperatures allow us to grow alfalfa slower which results in higher quality and more cuttings of dairy quality hay,” said Lance Owen, a third-generation farmer who owns and operates LAO Farms, LLC in Willcox with his wife Alicia.

In this southeastern-most Arizona county, temperatures in this high desert area at about 4,200 feet above sea level usually span in the upper 90s to low 100s in the heat of the summer and the 60s to 70s at night.

Owen grows 600 acres of alfalfa and 120 acres of milo on rented ground. Ryegrass grows on the milo acreage during the winter months.

The Owen family has farming roots in Willcox dating back to the 1970s. Lance’s father Claire grew head lettuce, apples, and other crops. After several years as an agricultural education instructor, Lance re-entered the farming profession.

Owen says slower-growing conditions produce more leaves and fewer stems, and more cuttings of dairy hay. He gets six-to seven hay cuttings per season depending on the summer monsoon (rainy) season. Owen’s first cutting is in late April to early May with the last cutting passes in November.

His first, second, third, six, and seventh cuttings are generally dairy quality hay, Owen says, with summer cuttings usually sold as dry cow hay.

Owen knows how to grow quality dairy hay. He entered two samples in the 2010 World Ag Expo Forage Challenge competition. Both samples scored in the Top Ten nationally.

Owen markets and trucks his hay to dairies in Arizona and New Mexico.