Skip Navigation Links
  Skip Navigation Links  

‘Wow’-worthy windrows

Agronomists credit Stephen Philpott’s massive hay crop windrows to hardiness of Fria ryegrass and Shelbyville producer’s dedication to soil fertility
Story and photos by: Sarah Geyer 8/26/2019


When Stephen Philpott began cutting his May hay crop, he realized the wheat portion of his wheat/ryegrass mix had drastically underperformed. However, Allied Seed’s Farm Science Genetics Fria ryegrass thrived, producing nearly the same volume as the Shelbyville farmer’s two-grain hay crop.
1 of 4
view all thumbnails for this gallery
Let’s set the record straight. Reports of traffic congestion on the backroads of Bedford County at the end of May are true. And Stephen Philpott’s hayfields are to blame. Those passing by couldn’t help but to slow down and admire the view.

“It’s no wonder traffic came to a standstill,” says Brett Jones, an agronomy specialist with Tennessee Farmers Cooperative. “Those windrows [piles of hay formed in rows for baling] were as wide and tall as the tractor track.”

Stephen says the bumper hay crop is a surprise, considering the wheat portion of his wheat/ryegrass mix drastically underperformed this year.

“I guess it was the winter weather that hurt the wheat, but it sure didn’t affect the ryegrass,” says the sixth-generation farmer, who has been planting Allied Seed’s Farm Science Genetics Fria ryegrass for three years as part of his two-grain, 150-acre hay crop. “When the weather is right, wheat and ryegrass are usually comparable. I’ve had some years when the wheat turned, and the ryegrass saved the crop. But this is the first time the wheat barely survived while the ryegrass really thrived.”

As Stephen’s experience confirms, Fria has proven to be one of the most resilient cool-season grasses year after year in university studies.

“In situations where we’ve had Fria next to other types of ryegrass, it has always come through the winter as good if not better than those other varieties,” says Greg Aston, South Central U.S. sales representative with Allied Seed. “Fria has proven it can stand up to the cold weather and consistently produce both high quality forage.”

Stephen says he can attest to Fria’s reputation of winter hardiness and adaptability: “It has done what I expected it to do every year I’ve planted it.”

He also raises cattle — recently transitioning from dairy to beef — along with corn and soybeans on his 635-acre farm in Shelbyville. His hay crop, which has been planted with a combination of wheat and ryegrass for more than 20 years, is double cropped with beans.

Stephen says most years his seed mixture — 1¼ bushels of wheat and 15 pounds of ryegrass per acre — is 90 percent planted by the second week in October.

“For best results, we recommend planting Fria on its own [not in a mix] and at a rate of about 25 to 35 pounds per acre,” says Greg. “This hay crop is a testament to the Fria variety and how well it performed.”

Especially, he adds, since that land supports both Stephen’s soybean and hay crops.

“Fertility is the key,” says Stephen, a long-time member of Bedford Moore Farmers Cooperative and current member of Tennessee Farmers Cooperative’s board of directors. “No crop grows without nutrients, and that means hay, too.”

This past spring, he applied 60 units of nitrogen, 80 units of phosphorus, and 180 units of potash; quantities he calculated from soil testing results and nutrient removal specifications.

“I am a huge believer in knowing what your crop removes,” says Stephen. “For example, any silage producer knows the differences in requirements for silage as compared to grain is huge. The same principle applies to hay, too. I used to create complicated spreadsheets, but now I use the free Ag PhD app [to calculate fertility removal]. I highly recommend it.”

“I can’t stress enough how critical fertility is in hay production,” says Brett. “So many times, we see producers who will get one good yield and then they wonder why it tapers off year after year. Farmers have to factor in the removal of nutrients with hay harvest, too. Potassium deficiency is a major problem we are facing in hay fields across the state. It not only affects production but can open the door for diseases and loss of stand.”

The impact of Stephen’s commitment to soil health will bode well for the producer as he transitions from dairy to backgrounding. Last December, he sold his milk-producing Holsteins and plans to do the same with the dry cows, pregnant heifers, yearlings, and babies next year. Once his dairy cows are gone, Stephen says he’ll begin working out the details on expanding his long-time 55-head beef herd.

“No matter what phase of this change we’re in, I’ll always have cattle to feed,” says the producer. “And raising a high-quality, high-volume hay crop is an important part of making sure that gets done right.”

For more information about Fria ryegrass and other cool-season forages from Farm Science Genetics, visit or talk with the agronomy professionals at your local Co-op.

Don’t let your hard work go up in smoke

By: Brett Jones, Tennessee Farmers Cooperative Agronomy Specialist

With this summer’s wet weather and nonstop humidity, trying to dry down hay has felt like (or still does) a winless battle. If you were tempted to rush the process, here’s something you need to know.

Putting up your hay while it’s still wet can lead to devastating losses from fire. That’s because chemical reactions in hay with a moisture content of 20 percent or more can cause a rise in temperature and formation of gases. If the temperature gets high enough, the gases ignite and the hay spontaneously combusts.

To reduce your risk of hay fires, check bale temperature twice a day for the first six weeks when the fires are most likely to occur.

A probe and commercial thermometer are recommended for accurate measurement. Contact your local Co-op for purchase information.

If a thermometer is not available, insert a 3/8- to 1/2-inch diameter metal rod into the hay. Wait 10 to 15 minutes, and then test the rod’s temperature with your bare hand. If you can hold the probe comfortably, the temperature is below 130° F. If the probe is too hot, then the temperature is probably above 160° F and a fire outbreak is likely.

Critical temperatures and

recommended action:

• 125° F — No action needed.

• 150° F — Hay is entering the danger zone. Check temperature twice daily and disassemble stacked hay bales to promote air circulation to cool the hay.

• 160° F — Hay has reached danger zone. Check temperature every couple of hours and disassemble stacked hay.

• 175° F — Hot spots or fire pockets are likely. Alert fire services; stop all air movement around hay.

• 190° F — With fire service assistance, remove hot hay. Be aware that hay could burst into flames.

• 200° F or higher — Fire is imminent.

For more information on reducing your risk of hay fires, contact your local Co-op.

Keeping Up
Market watch
National ag news
Career OpportunitiesCareer opportunities
Catalogs & brochures
Get in touch
Education & more
Programs & projects
What's New?
This document copyright © 2020 by Tennessee Farmers Cooperative. All rights reserved. Legal Notice