Growing hybrid rye is a relatively new venture for Sentry Ltd. But all indications already suggest it will have an increasing role in future rotations, says the company’s John Barrett.
Responsible for Sentry-managed farms throughout East Anglia and south-east England, John Barrett says hybrid rye suits much of the company’s land and rotations.
“We’re managing 1300ha of mainly Beccles Series clay soils in the area on behalf of seven landowners, through a mix of Contract Farming Agreements and Farm Business Tenancies.,” he explains.
“A key reason for choosing hybrid rye is that we have a belt of light land running through the farm where yields vary enormously from season to season.”
Two years ago, Sentry harvested 9.5t/ha of winter barley on this land. But winter wheat grown on the same land in 2020 suffered badly because of the very dry spring and hot summer. It averaged 4.5t/ha, which was obviously uneconomic and required a different approach.
“Although I am not afraid to grow hybrid rye on heavier land, and next season we will have it in a second wheat situation on heavier land which retains moisture, the crop is targeting a specific soil type.
“As a good scavenger of moisture, it works well on our light land and being a low-input crop reduces the financial investment, as well as the labour and machinery requirement.”
Another benefit is that hybrid rye is combined earlier than wheat, which extends the harvest period and spreads the demand on machinery and labour at a peak time of year, he explains.
“In recent years, the weather from late July through until early August has been a sweet spot for harvesting, so it fits in well with that timing.
“We have grown rye in the past, but that was conventional wholecrop for a local AD plant back in 2015.
“Currently we are in our first year of growing hybrid grain rye, which is being produced on a premium contract with ADM and will go for human consumption.
“The contract provides a choice of varieties, but we selected KWS Serafino as it is the highest yielding.
“Being a low-cost crop, rye helps reduce financial risk, which is important both for us as a farm management company and our clients.
“With changes in climate becoming more evident and periods of drought more frequent we will need to adapt our management approach by growing crops that are more resilient to such conditions, which will favour hybrid rye.”
Arable farmers badly need another cropping option, believes John Burgess, hybrid rye product manager for KWS UK.
“As a plant breeder, we hear from many who are increasingly concerned about restricted diversity in current rotations and the lack of cropping alternatives.
“Although the rye area is still relatively small, it will increase substantially because the grain has many potential markets, from feed and food manufacturing to use in the malting and distilling sectors.
From an arable perspective, rye is a crop for the future and fits in well with the new UK agriculture bill because it has specific advantages over other cereals.
“The crop needs a third less water than wheat and will thrive in conditions or on soils where wheat and even barley may struggle.
Mr Burgess adds: “It requires less agrochemical inputs and utilises nitrogen and phosphorus very efficiently, without compromising yields, which reduces growing costs.
Rye also has ultra-low take-all carryover and is aggressive in reducing blackgrass populations, so it is an ideal second cereal or addition to all-arable rotations.
“The latest hybrid rye varieties produce a high grain yield, while the straw makes a valuable contribution to the bottom line.
“Modern breeding has virtually eliminated rye’s former weakness, its susceptibility to ergot, and with in-built resistance through KWS PollenPlus technology, coupled with rhynchosporium and brown rust resistance, hybrid rye varieties are agronomically secure.”
“For pig producers, a major potential market, rye is a cheaper alternative to wheat and provides a range of key benefits.
An increasing number of producers in the UK are recognising the advantages of providing rye-rich feed, including improved gut health and behaviour.