As featured in Arable Farming Magazine
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 it’s 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 it’s 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.
“It’s 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 it’s 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 it’s 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 don’t 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.”
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 they’ll be the easiest to manage and most marketable. You can sow them on most soil types but as a deep-rooted, fast growing crop, they’re best suited to lighter soils.
“Drill at 2-3cm and aim for a seed rate of 175-200 seeds/sq.m if you’re 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. It’s 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 you’ll probably think of a famous crispbread and while there is consistent demand as a result of this, there’s growing interest being created by other milling and baking opportunities.
“Rye is associated with health benefits over many conventional cereals, so there’s 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 there’s 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.
“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 it’s 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