Arable News

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Giving rye a try

Plant breeder KWS presented and discussed opportunities for growing rye in the UK

At a series of hybrid rye roadshows, plant breeder KWS presented and discussed opportunities for growing rye in the UK. Dominic Kilburn reports.About 12,000ha (30,000 acres) of rye are grown in the UK, mainly harvested as wholecrop for the AD plant biogas market, as well as for livestock, but, as delegates heard at a recent KWS-organised hybrid rye roadshow, there are lessons to be learned from the near Continent where rye grain production plays a key part in feeding pigs and cattle.According to KWS’ Simon Witheford, speaking at an event staged near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, there is plenty to do in terms of developing the crop in the UK. “These roadshows are to test the market a little and try to stimulate a greater interest in growing hybrid rye by looking at the opportunities it may provide,” he explained. “Growing rye for biogas is the main reason it is grown in the UK but we have seen success in countries like Denmark where the crop is grown and harvested as grain for pig feed.
“It would be nice to replicate that success here,” he added.Wholecrop
Focusing initially on wholecrop hybrid rye for biogas, Simon explained that the crop achieved a very high gas production per tonne of fresh material, similar to that of maize – the key feedstock of most arable-based AD plants in the UK.In addition, when used as a substrate with maize silage (at the optimum ratio of 25 per cent rye, 75 per cent maize silage), German-based research demonstrated that the combination delivered an increase of 13 per cent biogas per tonne of fresh weight than maize silage on its own.
“Higher dry matter yields than winter wheat, spring wheat and triticale is also a good reason to use rye in AD biogas production,” added Simon.Turning to wholecrop forage analysis for livestock feed (2014), he said that rye, again, compared well with wheat. “I’m not saying rye will increase milk production but it’s a useful addition, or substrate, for other silage crops,” he suggested.Agronomy lessons
According to Simon, work carried out at Agrovista’s Project Lamport site, Northamptonshire in the 2013/2014 growing season, demonstrated that hybrid rye can help with black-grass control both in the autumn, where rye will out-compete black-grass, and, more importantly, later in the season where black-grass will be shaded sitting below the tall canopy produced by rye.”Black-grass development within hybrid rye will be poor, with later maturity, and the viability of black-grass seed is much less than when grown in wheat.”Project Lamport trials in 2014 showed that there was only 8 per cent viability of black-grass seed found in rye, compared with 27 per cent viability in wheat,” added Simon.Grain yield
Also making the case for rye was KWS sales manager Bill Lankford, who said that a series of trials in the UK last year clearly demonstrated the crop’s worth as both a first and second cereal, when comparing yield with winter wheat, in addition to the benefits of its competitive growth habit.As a first cereal on the Yorkshire Wolds hybrid rye yielded 0.3t/ha higher than the feed wheat average in the trial (11.6t/ha and 11.3t/ha respectively), he pointed out. As a second cereal it yielded 10t/ha compared with a feed wheat average of 9.3t/ha.In Dorset, the same year, second cereal rye topped the first cereal feed wheat average by 1.5t/ha, said Dr Lankford.Turning to economic considerations, and with rye grain delivering a gross margin of 809/ha, it stacked up in the “zone” of growing a Group 4 wheat, he added.Pigs and cattle
Danish agronomist Jacob Nymand discussed the benefits of growing the latest generation of hybrid rye varieties as grain feed for pigs and cattle, highlighting the crop’s ability to achieve good yields on all soil types (as well as in dry conditions) with lower production costs than other cereals.Comparing grain yields when converted to feeding value (mega joules), 10 trials on heavy land in Denmark demonstrated that, on average, hybrid rye achieved an equal feed value to wheat.
On lighter land trials, the difference in feed value was 14 per cent in favour of hybrid rye, showing the crop’s versatility in variable conditions. Jacob added that farmers growing hybrid rye to feed their own pigs on farm would have to weigh up the economic benefit from self-sufficient feed production by growing hybrid rye, against the potential increased costs of storing and handling an extra cereal.”We think that hybrid rye will take over as the main feed for pigs and cattle in Denmark and that it will also become the main second cereal grown in the country,” he concluded.Hybrid rye agronomy:
Early sown:  (15-30 Sept) 200 seeds/m2
Mid-sown:  (1-30 October) 220-240 seeds/m2
Late sown:  (after 1 November) 260 seeds/m2
Sowing depth: 2cm (seed must be covered)
Nitrogen:  150kg N/ha (average)
PGRs:   Most people use two applications (Moddus/CCC).
Fungicides: Rye is susceptible to brown rust and could require three robust fungicides to keep it clean.
Herbicides:  Liberator pre-em, Avadex post-em (particularly so in black-grass situations).
Harvest: End of June/early July (30-35 per cent dry matter).
Take all: As a second cereal rye will carry take-all but there will be no discernable yield loss.

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