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Hybrid rye has significant agronomic advantages over other crops – with a potential UK market that could double in the coming years, say seed... ‘More to hybrid rye than meets the eye’

• Cropped area to double by 2028

• Agronomic benefits for farmers

• Breeders say new varieties soon

Hybrid rye has significant agronomic advantages over other crops – with a potential UK market that could double in the coming years, say seed suppliers.

Some 50,000ha of hybrid rye are currently grown in the UK. But opportunities in pig and poultry diets and the distilling sector mean there is no reason why that area shouldn’t increase to 100,000ha by 2028, says Nigel Walley, national seeds manager for Agrovista.

Mr Walley has been commercially involved with hybrid rye since the crop established itself as a key energy source for anaerobic digestion several years ago. The agronomic benefits of rye in the rotation are clear, he says.

“Hybrid rye is an excellent choice for growers,” says Mr Walley.

The crop is flexible in the rotation and can be drilled early or late, helping to spread harvest. Other benefits include lower seed rates, rapid spring growth, exceptional water efficiency and an aggressive root system that can scavenge for moisture and nutrients.

Profit margins

These benefits can help growers bolster profit margins by reducing input costs. Hybrid rye requires about half the fertiliser of a second wheat and has far less susceptibility to take-all – making it an attractive option as a second cereal.

“It’s also relatively straightforward to manage compared to other cereal crops,” says Mr Walley. This includes a robust fungicide programme to combat any brown rust. Some 40% should be applied by growth stage 25 with the remaining 60% at growth stage 37, he adds.

With most hybrid rye currently grown as wholecrop for anaerobic digestion, seed breeders are developing new, higher yielding varieties that meet the right physical and nutritional qualities specifically required by the distilling and pig feed sectors.

Agrovista has a key partnership with German breeder Saaten Union and their UK partner Elsoms Seeds. Winter rye varieties, such as SU Performer, regularly exceed 50t/ha when harvested wholecrop. Newer varieties, such as SU Arvid, are well suited to UK conditions.

Consistent yields

“Both SU Performer and SU Arvid offer flexible drilling dates and consistently high yields, even when drilled in late November. Both varieties have low susceptibility to lodging but you may still need a Plant Growth Regulator for insurance in very fertile conditions.”

Saaten Union cereal product manager Andrew Creasy agrees that the planted area could double within the next five years. It might seem a bold claim but it is supported by wholecrop trials last year that coincided with some hit and dry growing conditions.

“Despite the challenging conditions, the ability of hybrid rye to shoot ahead and maximise early spring moisture was clearly demonstrated in the trials with several SU varieties still achieving fresh weight yields of over 60t/ha.

“If that 2022 summer was to be replicated regularly, then I can see a strong long term sustainability argument for growing more rye. However, the key to unlocking more growing area in the short-medium term is establishing new markets.”

Another potential new market could be bioethanol production, says Mr Creasy. “Although wheat is still the primary source for this, rye could do the job equally well – if not better – given its lower inputs versus wheat.”

Summarising yield performances in the wholecrop trials, SU Arvid was the dominant variety. It consistently yielded 5t/ha more than SU Performer and 1.5t/ha more than SU Baresi. On further analysis, SU Arvid was also the top performing variety on gas yields.

“In terms of new candidate varieties for the next Descriptive List, SU Perspectiv achieved higher yields in on-farm trials in both northern England and Scotland – and looks to be one to follow as a high yielding grain variety with potential for the distilling sector.”