Hybrid rye could fit in well to tillage farmers’ systems and encourage more fodder production agreements between tillage and livestock farmers.

The crop has similar management to a winter barley crop and its high-grain quality, coupled with promising yield potential puts it in the running with triticale and maize.

Dave Barry, general manager of grass and forage at Goldcrop – gave the lowdown on the crop at the company’s open day last week in Co. Cork and stated that there will be seed available for the coming autumn.

He added that as Mesurol seed dressing is no longer available for maize the crop may be susceptible to slug and bird attacks. While the impact this will have on next season’s crop is not known, it is something to consider.

Rye has been grown on Goldcrop’s trial site in Shanagarry for two years and yields have impressed. Very importantly the tall crop has remained standing – under a plant growth regulator programme similar to winter barley.

Dave explained that the advent of hybrids has given the crop a boost across western Europe.

“There’s been a huge amount of breeding effort put into rye over the past 30 to 40 years and that’s brought about a significant yield increase and now you can expect yields similar to winter wheat, particularly in a second or third crop situation.”

Wholecrop silage

In more recent times, rye has been promoted in the whiskey and beer industry, as well as for its human health benefits in rye bread. However, according to Dave it could fit in very well to a wholecrop silage programme.

Last year’s fodder shortage sparked an increased interest in wholecrop silage.

There’s a certain amount of wholecrop cereal being made in Ireland. There was a bit more of it made last year and some of it was opportunist.

Advantages of rye and agronomy

According to Dave, rye has a number of advantages, which puts it in a good position – compared to triticale and spring and winter wheat – to be grown in a planned approach for wholecrop silage.

Some of the characteristics of hybrid rye:
  • High grain yield;
  • Bulky seed;
  • Very good tolerance of take-all and provides an opportunity to grow in succession;
  • Good standing ability.

Hybrid rye can be planted in October or early November. It requires 30-40kg N/ha less than winter wheat and the management and cost of the crop is similar to winter barley. Fungicides will be needed and the main concern is yellow rust.

Dave added that when cut using a wholecrop header on the forage harvester and pitted at 35% dry matter it is a crop that should be considered by both livestock and tillage farmers.

“It’s a more robust plant. [It’s] probably more reliable in terms of yield, is less vulnerable to wet, cold and disease issues and is very competitive with weeds.”

Another advantage for tillage farmers is that it can be grown with the same equipment as cereal crops already on the farm.

Background to rye

Dave gave some background to the crop and explained that it was very popular over 100 years ago.

“Rye is one of the traditional cereals in the world and there are geographic regions where it’s very popular.

As a crop it’s good and hardy so it puts up with colder wetter conditions than wheat and barley and it also puts up with drier conditions. It’s got better drought tolerance.

Improved breeding has brought rye back into the frame.

“If you go back 100 years there probably was a reasonable amount of rye being grown throughout Ireland. It was always a popular crop in Scotland.

Over the last 40-50 years it died out completely because our climate is really suitable for wheat and barley.

“In most years we don’t have the extremes that cause any significant problems with yield ability. They [wheat and barley] did the job that we needed and rye wasn’t part of the package,” he addded.

Rye has increased massively in area in Denmark – mainly for the production of pig feed.

“The grain is very like a wheat grain and it has particular advantages from a pig feed point of view. It’s got a better amino-acid profile than wheat. It’s also consumed more slowly by pigs.”

Interestingly, slower consumption can also result in less undesirable activities in pigs, such as tail biting.