In the past five years, Chris Clelland has built a successful custom haying business - and a commercial hay enterprise with 40 customers.

Not bad for a 20-year-old. His success recently brought him $1,000 as a finalist in the National FFA Agri-Entrepreneurship Awards competition.

Clelland, of Caldwell, ID, makes money doing what he likes best: "working outside and with people." He harvests and sells alfalfa hay, primarily to horse owners. Mostly, though, he swaths, bales and stacks hay for a fee.

He owns the business, C&M Custom Hay, with his dad, Mark. Each owns a 50% share in the equipment. They share the workload.

His dad's expertise also saves the business money; Mark's a mechanic at an equipment dealership.

"By working with him, I not only learn a lot, but we can keep equipment running longer, which means more profit."

It was his dad's connections that got the business started - when Chris was a high school freshman.

"A guy my dad share-crops with didn't need the hay from that year's crops," he explains. "So I offered to buy it, with the intention of reselling it."

He ended up brokering that hay, but started custom harvesting the following year.

Last year, that part of the business encompassed about 200 acres. And Clelland bought standing alfalfa or crop-shared roughly another 50 acres, netting 300 tons to sell.

Most fields averaged 10-15 acres, spread out over a 10-mile radius.

"These are landowners who maybe work in town, have extra land after pasturing cattle or lack equipment for harvesting," Clelland says.

Clelland's people skills add to his success. His past involvement in 4-H horse projects helps, too.

"If you stick to something that you know, you're better off than venturing into the unknown. I know horse people and horse hay requirements," he says.