Think Beyond Rye's Cover Crop Potential

September 22, 2016 11:30 AM

Cereal rye is a time-tested cover crop. But are farmers overlooking its utility as a feed or food crop?

Perhaps, according to University of Minnesota Extension researchers Jochum Wiersma, Scotty Wells and Axel Garcia. The three recently reported some of their thoughts on cereal rye in a recent edition of the “Minnesota Crop News” newsletter.

“Rye is used in other parts of the world as both feed and food,” Wiersma writes. “Some of you may have had pumpernickel bread and if you are of Scandinavian descent you may have grown up with knäckebröd. As feed stuff, rye has some interesting properties that have grabbed the attention of hog producers in Denmark and Germany as a way to reduce antibiotic usage and stress in the group housing systems, both mandated by law.”

However, in North America, little to know variety development has occurred in recent decades, Wiersma says. It has a notable Achilles heel in the form of ergot – it is more susceptible to this disease because it cross-pollinates, as opposed to wheat, barley and oats.

Could consumer interest incentivize farmers to invest in more rye acres, anyway? Maybe – despite containing gluten, rye has garnered favor in recent years for its role as a healthy grain. And Americans’ thirst for rye whiskey has skyrocketed in recent years. Eater Magazine recently noted that consumption is up 536% since 2002.

Wiersma says that Steve Zwinger at NDSU’s Carrington Research Extension Center released the first new rye variety in the region in more than two decades last winter, called ND Dylan. Additional trials and breeding efforts by the University of Minnesota, the Samuel Noble Foundation and several European breeding companies are also underway.

Wiersma says two years of data from U of M trials show grain yield potential varies greatly among varieties – and the best hybrid rye yields come out on top by as much as a third. (Unfortunately, not all of these hybrids are commercially available in the U.S., he adds.)

“The data does show the potential of rye as a grain crop and not just merely as a cover crop in Minnesota,” he says.

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