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Winter Rye

L.A. Hunt, Department of Crop Science, Ontario Agricultural College

Rye was grown on about 18 million hectares over the world in early 1970's, with an annual production of over 28 million metric tons of grain. This level of production was well below that of other cereal grain crops, as shown in Table 1.

The main producing countries were the Soviet Union, Poland and Germany (West and East). These countries accounted for some 60%, 15% and 11 (5 + 6)% of total world production respectively.

Rye production is declining on a world wide basis, a decline often attributed to the food preference and higher yields of wheat. This world decline is shown in Table 2. By contrast to the worldwide decrease in rye area and production over the last 10 years, the Canadian rye acreage (predominantly fall sown, 100%fall sown in Ontario, 80% fall sown on the Prairies) has fluctuated but has not shown any tendency to decrease (Table 3). On a longer term basis, the rye acreage may have decreased, as shown by data for the rye crop of Ontario (Table 4). The data of Table 4 relates to rye grown primarily for grain, but frequently the crop is grown solely as a cover and green manure crop on sandy, drought prone soils.

Trade and Utilization

World trade in rye represents only a small fraction of total production, accounting for an average of 620,000 tons (some 2% of production) in the period 1965-1974. Of this trade, Canada contributed an average of 186,000 tonnes - some 30% of total world trade (Canada Grains Council Statistical Handbook'75).

Of the Canadian production, slightly over 5% does not enter into major utilization statistics and so is probably used on-farm, and about 30% is exported. The next highest fraction (12%) is accounted for by the distilleries. Flour mills account for about 2% of production. In Ontario the proportion used by flour mills is probably much higher than the national average.

Potential Yield and Quality

Winter rye tests at the Flora Research Station have shown that the better varieties often outyield winter wheat. The Elora Research Station is located in an area with a severe winterkill record, and the difference in yield between rye and wheat is even more marked in years when winterkill is severe, when the superior hardiness of rye is brought into sharp focus. In 1974, for example, the varieties Kustro and Puma yielded 5.6 and 4.8 tons/ha respectively whilst the wheat test was not harvested owing to severe kill. However, in years when lodging is severe, yields of rye are considerably lower than those of wheat, because most rye varieties are taller than wheat and more prone to lodging damage.

In addition to the winter hardiness and yield potential, several authors have reported that the biological value of rye protein is superior to wheat protein. In particular, the literature indicates higher Iysine values in rye than in wheat, with some lines reaching over 5% (Table 5).


Despite the apparently high yield potential and the favourable amino acid composition of the protein, rye has received only scant attention in study of the present improved varieties at different sites, and virtually no work on the package of agronomic practices (date of seeding, rate of seeding, fertilizer application) necessary for high yield and convenient incorporation into a crop rotation. This latter aspect is particularly important since in eastern Canada, rye could well fit into a crop rotation cycle for late fall seeding.

The reasons for the limited attention paid to rye stem not only from history, but also from the fear of ergot contamination, and from the bad reputation of rye as an inferior feed grain. Many feeding studies have shown that rye has an intake inhibiting effect when fed in large amounts, and that this reduced intake is associated with lower growth rate. However, most authors have concluded that rations for pigs above 50 kg may contain 50% rye, and for mature poultry,20% rye without measurable effect.

Future in Ontario

At the present, the continued appearance of rye in the cropping picture of Ontario is attributable to the ability to yield some returns from sandy and other problem soils. An expansion of rye production beyond its present limits would depend on its competing effectively in the feed grain market, and on high production in areas where climate and soil are not entirely suitable for corn. High yields are obtained from rye in such areas, but effective

- competition on the feed grain market depends on management systems (seeding rates, seeding dates, fertilizer practices, seed treatments, etc.) that ensure not only high but also consistent yield, and on the availability of varieties of improved feed quality and lodging and disease resistance characteristics.

Copyright 1980

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