Fawaz gets three cuttings of hay per year. Much of it goes into the retail market. “Hay growers in places like Butte Valley pride themselves on putting up a lot of high quality dairy hay. We cannot really compete with that. I pride myself on putting up a lot of big hay … high-yielding good quality hay.”

He will put up hay from up to 4,500 aces per year. Maybe 500 of that will go into the dairy market. “I don’t avoid the dairies. It is just not where I want to go.

“I have worked with the same hay broker since I started farming, and he tells me I have repeat customers for my hay who like the quality and consistency,” he said.

University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Steve Orloff researched and introduced the idea of mixing alfalfa and orchard grass in the 1990s. That has been very successful for Scott Valley growers, some of whom ship this mix all the way to San Diego — a 700 mile trip one way — to supply a demanding horse market.

Fawaz has a 50-50 mix of alfalfa and alfalfa/orchardgrass fields. He likes to get 3 tons per acre on his first cutting of straight alfalfa, but it is not dairy quality. He shoots for 2 to 2.25 tons on the second cutting and 1.25 to 1.75 tons per acre on the third. With the orchardgrass/alfalfa mix he tries to get a little more on first cutting without losing quality. His second and third cuttings of the forage mix yield a little less than straight alfalfa.

He bales anywhere from 90-140 pound three-strand bales. He also puts up hay in a 3-by-4 foot big bale weighing 1,400 to 1,500 pounds.

All his ground is leased, usually on a five-year contract. Wheel lines deliver the irrigation water on all but three fields where there are center pivots. “I will pay more rent for a pivot,” he added.

He has cut back on his acreage. He once rented 2,100 acres. “I am down 300 to 400 acres from last year, figuring it is better to work smarter than harder. And I have put up more hay this year by learning how to be more efficient,” he said.

He wants to get five years from a pure alfalfa stand before interplanting orchardgrass. He believes alfalfa uses less water and fertilizer than orchardgrass. “I also believe a good healthy stand of alfalfa will produce a half ton more per acre than grass."

Interplanting orchardgrass in the alfalfa will extend the life of the forage field three to four years.

“We would get more life from a stand if we did not have the rodent problem like we do. Gophers are hard to get rid of.”

Fawaz analyzes soils and tissues each year to determine fertilizer use. Orloff, who has known Fawaz since he was in high school, says the young grower relies on nutrient sampling more than most.

“It is a lot cheaper than buying fertilizer you do not need,” Fawaz noted. “I don’t think people pay enough attention to other nutrients in orchardgrass besides nitrogen.”