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15 Jul 2020

Rye on the rise

Rye on the rise

by Arable Farming July 2020

With growing demand from animal feed markets, spirits production and human nutrition combined with specific agronomic advantages for growers, could hybrid rye take a sizeable bite of UK cereals production in the next few years? Arable Farming finds out more.

Rye has achieved some attention in recent years as a feedstock for on-farm anaerobic digestion but its relatively low-key status is about to change, with rapidly rising demand from other markets and hybrid varieties adding new levels of grower security.

That is according to John Burgess of KWS, who says while rye has always been around it has never really caught growers imagination in the UK despite more than four million hectares now being grown in Europe.

But its a crop which delivers a range of rotational and management benefits, with recent hybridisation adding further to its potential through higher yields and greater production resilience.

The end result is a crop that can produce yields of nine to 11 tonnes/ha in most parts of the country, with significantly lower N applications and simpler disease control than most other UK-grown cereals.


Plus there are rapidly developing markets hungry for greater volumes.

Hybrid rye also combines several valuable traits which make it increasingly relevant to current production challenges, adds Mr Burgess.

For a start its a fast-growing crop with an early drilling window which spans early September through to mid-October, giving vital autumn flexibility compared to the increasing trend for later drilling slots for wheat.

Its got a deep root system able to make full use of available soil moisture, with a water requirement through the season being about 25% less than wheat or barley so its a good choice for light land or drought-prone regions.


N requirement is also significantly less than more conventional cereals. In fact, N fertiliser requirement with rye can be roughly half that of a second wheat with savings of 100kg N/ha and more being achievable, Mr Burgess says.

In comparison to second wheat grown for feed, which is likely to require around 220kg N/ha, hybrid rye would require just 120kg N/ha. With a milling wheat crop needing around 280kg N/ha, the difference is even more.

Disease control is also much simpler with correspondingly lower inputs costs, Mr Burgess adds.

Take-all is negligible in the crop, with the only fungicide needed really being for brown rust. Mildew and eyespot should not be overlooked the further north you go, plus its a good idea to invest in PGRs.

On lighter soils a single PGR is usually sufficient, while on loam or clay soils two applications with one each at GS31-32 and GS37-49 would be advisable.

P and K needs are broadly similar to winter wheat and you dont need to worry about ergot issues thanks to the inclusion of PollenPlus technology in the latest hybrid varieties, which increases the speed of fertilisation so the risk of potential infection is minimised.

Rapid growth and stem elongation also give hybrid rye an edge over the most pernicious weeds, with trials suggesting the viability of black-grass seed being reduced by 60% compared to wheat.

Modern varieties

Growers considering growing hybrid rye this autumn should start with one of the modern varieties such as KWS Edmondo and newly listed KWS Serafino, he advises.

These are going to be the highest yielders, plus theyll be the easiest to manage and most marketable. You can sow them on most soil types but as a deep-rooted, fast growing crop, theyre best suited to lighter soils.

Drill at 2-3cm and aim for a seed rate of 175-200 seeds/sq.m if youre drilling in September. Later drilling requires up to 300 seeds/sq.m, but we advise growers to aim for a September window to get the best from the crop.

The seedbed must be firm and clod free to ensure good seed to soil contact and even germination. Its best to avoid too fine a tilth on the surface as this can

cap in heavy rain and affect subsequent water infiltration.


Anaerobic digester and wholecrop are already established uses of rye, but there is growing interest from a number of well-developed markets, says John Burgess.

Think of rye in human nutrition and youll probably think of a famous crispbread and while there is consistent demand as a result of this, theres growing interest being created by other milling and baking opportunities.

Rye is associated with health benefits over many conventional cereals, so theres an increasing amount of rye-based foods for consumers. These include bakery products such as sourdoughs and rye-based bread, together with breakfast cereals and snack products.

Then theres rye whisky and other uses in distilling and brewing. Rye can be used to add a distinct spicy character to alcohol and is increasingly sought after by

craft and commercial-scale producers.

But one of the biggest growth areas lies in its use within pig nutrition, he adds.

Cost benefits

With inclusion levels of up to 70% possible in pelleted-, liquid- or meal-based feed for pig fattening, trials have shown not just significant cost benefits but also positive behavioural and gut health effects, for finisher and sow rations.

All in all, with the more variable growing conditions now being experienced, the need to cut farm inputs generally and greater diversity on-farm being encouraged, hybrid rye has a lot going for it.

Add in growing end market demand and new varieties making it a higher yielding, more reliable crop and its easy to see why many believe hybrid rye will take 10% of the UK cereal area by 2030, Mr Burgess says.

Key rotational benefits of hybrid rye

  • High grain yields up to 11 tonnes per hectare achievable
  • Ideal for early drilling to spread workload
  • Low N requirement compared to other cereals
  • Reduced disease risk from BYDV, septoria and ramularia
  • High black-grass suppression
  • High straw yield 30% higher than wheat or barley

    Source: KWS

In the field A. Marshall and Sons Slighouses Farm, Dunsbecome

There are many advantages to be gained from hybrid rye, according to Berwickshire arable grower and pig producer Adam Marshall Junior, who drilled his first crop in autumn 2018.

He says: If farmers have any concerns about growing the crop or using it, they really shouldnt. Rye has benefited the arable side of our business, while including it in home-milled and mixed rations has substantially reduced feed costs, improved herd health and increased performance.

Adam Marshall Senior and his two sons, Adam Junior and Charlie, are the fourth and fifth generations of the family to farm at A. Marshall and Sons Slighouses Farm, Duns.

In addition to the 85 hectares they own there, the family contract farms another 200ha and participates in a machinery-sharing group with two neighbours to cultivate, drill and combine up to 800ha.

All the rye we grow is used to replace some of the wheat and barley in home-milled and mixed pig rations, Adam Junior adds.


The reasons for growing rye in the rotation were to introduce another arable crop as the performance of second wheats can be very variable on the lighter land and because we wanted out of malting barley due to the increasing costs and risks involved.

For 2018/2019 we decided to grow 22ha which yielded 9.75t/ha. We were pleased with that and doubled the area this season. We currently have 44ha of KWS Daniello in the ground and are hoping for even better results.

Hybrid rye has quickly In the field A. Marshall and Sons Slighouses Farm, Dunsbecome part of our rotation. In our experience, it is easier to grow than winter barley, with less financial risk.

Being less susceptible to more leaf diseases than other cereals it requires far fewer agrochemical inputs and needs only 120kg/ha of nitrogen, which is about 25% less than for winter barley, so there are significant savings. Our variable costs are £156.94/ha.

Hybrid rye has performed so well, the business is considering eliminating winter barley from the rotation, he says.

The crop is taller and produces 50% more straw, which reduces the speed of our New Holland 8.90 combine, but it provides good bedding and burns well in the 450kWh biomass boiler which heats our new piggeries, various properties on-farm and the Opico grain dryer.

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