Could more acreage of hybrid rye help UK agriculture reduce its carbon footprint?

Dominique Spurrier © KWS

Hybrid rye is of growing interest to UK growers as an agronomically robust crop offering many rotational and management advantages, says Dominic Spurrier, hybrid rye product manager at KWS.

The significant reduction in on-farm inputs makes it very attractive financially on the farm, but could also go a long way to helping UK agriculture reduce its carbon footprint, he says.

“For starters, the crop requires 100-140 kg/ha less nitrogen than coarse wheat and has the lowest CO2 footprint among cereals, saving 80 kg of CO2 per ton of grain compared to wheat. It also requires a third less water and will thrive in conditions or soils where wheat and even barley may struggle.

“Hybrid rye also requires fewer agrochemical inputs and uses nitrogen and phosphorus very efficiently, without compromising yields. Plus, its ultra-low carryover and aggressive growth helps reduce foxtail populations, making it an ideal second grain or addition to any arable rotations.

drought tolerance

One of the most drought-tolerant crops available, hybrid rye is well suited to lighter, drier soils, especially those in areas with low rainfall, he adds.

“However, there is no reason why it cannot be grown on heavier soils and many agricultural companies in this situation are now considering this crop, which also produces more straw than other cereals.

“These and other benefits mean that hybrid rye meets the demands of modern high-yield cultivation with the best properties for sustainable and healthy food for people and animals.

“The pig sector is a major potential market for rye, as in addition to being a cheaper alternative to wheat, it offers a range of additional key benefits.

“In Denmark, Germany, Russia, Poland and Spain, for example, hybrid rye is already an established component of rations and now an increasing number of producers in the UK are recognizing the benefits of providing pigs with rich feed. in rye, including improved feeds. gut health and behavior.

KWS is the primary breeder of this rapidly developing crop, with the company offering varieties for whole crop as silage or AD/biogas feedstock, as well as for the production of cereals for animal feed, flour and distillation.

“Yields of 10 to 13 t/ha are commonplace, and many growers are finding it outperforms wheat and barley as the second or third cereal,” Dominic Spurrier points out. A fast-growing crop with a long sowing window from mid-September to early November, hybrid rye can be sown when conditions and weather permit.

“With only 300 liters per tonne of grain per hectare, the crop’s water requirements are about 25% lower than wheat or barley, making it better suited to light soils or drought-prone regions. .

“Hybrid rye also moves through stem elongation faster than any other cereal, with trials showing it offers intense competition against blackgrass and reduces the viability of this pernicious weed.”


Risk management

According to Graham Redman, partner at the Andersons Center and editor of the John Nix Farm Management Pocketbook, hybrid rye could be an attractive option for growers in the future.

“The mood for agriculture is currently quite positive thanks to record prices for most crops, driven in large part by global uncertainties, high demand and supply chain issues. This has significantly increased short-term farm incomes, but important caveats to the current situation mean the long-term picture may not be so rosy.

“Forward-thinking agricultural businesses will have recognized the potential impact of BPS reductions for some time. With less security offered by support payments and crops that cost more to produce, I think farmers will focus more on reducing their exposure to risk.

Reduction of production costs

Given the current business environment, hybrid rye could be an attractive option in some situations, he says.

“It costs less to produce than traditional grain crops, helps spread the workload of harvest and fall, so labor and machinery demands are less intense, it is more resilient to drought and well adapted to less fertile soils. The trend towards larger rotations could work in favor of hybrid rye and see it become more popular, but that depends on whether there is a market for the grain.

Peter Riley, a well-known and highly regarded agronomist for independent agronomy service provider Farmacy plc, says it’s all demand-driven, so if more contracts become available it would allow more hybrid rye to be grown in the UK. United.

“This would represent an exciting development and attract growers to lighter, drought-prone soils as an alternative to winter and spring barley. With the current state of world events having such an impact beyond the scale of anything most of us have ever seen, it’s hard to know exactly what the situation will be when decisions about 2023 cultivation plans will have to be taken.

“The world has been turned upside down and everything is in limbo. Currently, we are seeing extremely high prices for grains available for sale, but with nitrogen fertilizer prices also at record highs and some difficulty in securing them, many farms are likely to use sub-optimal levels this season.

handmade rye


Important lower inputs

Whatever situation growers find themselves in in the future, provided marketing contracts are available, hybrid rye could play a growing role in many parts of the country, he adds.

“Reasons include the fact that it requires fewer inputs than wheat or feed barley, its main competitors, which makes it significantly cheaper to grow. The latest hybrid rye varieties are a major step forward for growers looking for a viable crop alternative that will help make light land rotations more agronomically and financially resilient to changing weather conditions.

Key Benefits of Hybrid Rye Rotation

  • High grain yields of up to 13 t/ha achievable
  • Drill date flexibility and early harvest potential
  • Low N requirement compared to other cereals
  • Simple agronomy and reduced inputs required
  • High suppression of black grass
  • High straw yield – 30% higher than wheat or barley