Case for hybrid rye “increasingly compelling” 

Offering reduced input costs, flexibility, adaptability and good returns, the UK hybrid rye area could double in size within the next few years, experts predict.

field of SU Perspective hybrid rye variety
 SU Perspectiv is a dual purpose variety that has recorded yields of 108% in trials in North Yorkshire and Scotland. 

With future uncertainty over three key maize seed treatments and supply security concerns for maize as a key energy source for anaerobic digestion (AD), a renewed focus on hybrid rye over the next few years could lift its current UK planted area well beyond 50,000ha.

This is according to Agrovista’s arable seed product manager and agronomist Ted Williams.  

A shot in the arm for hybrid rye  

Ted says: “The potential loss of the bird deterrent maize seed treatment Korit (ziram) would hit maize growers hard and make the crop extremely difficult to grow successfully.  

“So, whilst we hope new alternative maize seed treatments gain approval over time, this could be a shot in the arm for hybrid rye, giving it the momentum to become an even more important crop in future rotations.” 

Hybrid rye is very flexible in the rotation – it can be drilled early or late, on any soil type, helping to spread the harvest, Ted explains.

Economic benefits 

Its agronomic benefits also translate to economic benefits for growers seeking to improve profit margins by lowering input costs. 

   Agrovista Arable Seed Product Manager and agronomist Ted Williams.
Agrovista arable seed product manager and agronomist Ted Williams.

These include lower seed rates, rapid spring growth, exceptional water efficiency and an aggressive root system that can scavenge for moisture and nutrients. 

Ted says: “It also offers superb nitrogen use efficiency (NUE), requiring up to half the fertiliser of a second wheat and has far less susceptibility to take-all, making it an attractive option as a second cereal.” 

It also ticks all the key sustainability boxes on inputs and is relatively straightforward to manage compared to other cereal crops, he adds.  

“In challenging climatic conditions, such as the recent hot, dry summers, it adapts well and generally copes much better than either wheat or barley.” 

Good returns 

However, it’s not completely bullet proof, he acknowledges. “[…] With low seed rates and a wide autumn drilling window it can be susceptible to slug activity, so growers do need to be cautious, particularly with late drilling and in wetter autumns.” 

That aside, the financial return on a 10-12t/ha hybrid rye crop makes a compelling argument for growers to include it in future rotations, Ted believes. 

“As a key seed supplier in the hybrid rye sector, Agrovista has a successful partnership on winter hybrid rye varieties with both German breeder Saaten Union and their UK partner Elsoms Seeds,” he continues.  

“Established varieties, such as SU Performer and SU Baresi, regularly achieve wholecrop fresh weight yields of up to 50t/ha on good land and, with around 50% of the varieties on the current Descriptive List (DL), the SU pipeline seems well suited to UK growing conditions.” 

UK rye area could double  

Danny Richardson, combinable seed product specialist at Wynnstay, agrees that the UK rye area could potentially double in size within the next few years. 

“As a business, Wynnstay has already seen a 10-15% increase in farmer customers growing hybrid rye in the last two years,” he explains.  

   Danny Richardson of Wynnstay
Danny Richardson, Wynnstay.

However, the key to expanding the growing area in the short to medium term is establishing new markets.  

READ MORE: Clear agronomic benefits predict “strong future” for hybrid rye

Wynnstay sees a future interest in hybrid rye coming from mixed farms – specifically those that grow feed crops for their own livestock.  

“A switch to rye-based diets within the pig sector is already happening.  

“Trial results have shown that there is very little difference in liveweight gains between rye and wheat-based diets, with improved gut health and reduced levels of aggression favouring rye over wheat.” 

Bio-ethanol production is another potential new market. “Although wheat is still the primary source for this, rye could do the job equally well – if not better, given rye’s lower inputs versus wheat.” 

Of the available hybrid rye varieties, Wynnstay has seen customer demand for both SU Performer and SU Arvid. Many of its rye growers now splitting their area between these established varieties and newer ones coming onto the DL. 

“With wider market opportunities for hybrid rye, combined with possible future yield penalties for maize crops, I can certainly see the area of hybrid rye rising above 100,000ha in a relatively short time frame,” he concludes. 

Stephen, Saaten Union, in field of hybrid rye
Stephen Goward, general manager for Saaten Union UK said grain yields of 10-13t/ha are readily achievable.

Tremendous opportunities for market growth 

Stephen Goward, general manager for Saaten Union UK, sees rapidly rising input costs, future emphasis on sustainable farming practices and recent extreme weather events in the UK as key reasons for more growers to include hybrid rye in their rotations.  

He adds: “As one of the most successful breeders of rye for over 25 years we see tremendous opportunities for market growth in winter hybrid rye.  

“Grain yields of 10-13t/ha are readily achievable with a crop that is relatively easy to manage and can be grown on all soil types.  

“Many growers have already discovered that it out-performs both wheat and barley as a second or third cereal and with a wide drilling window from September to early November it is incredibly flexible within the rotation.” 

Variety choices

Of the 13 varieties on the UK Descriptive List, six are bred by Saaten Union.  

“Our continued aim is to introduce 1-2 new varieties onto the DL each year, offering growers more choice, whether it’s a wholecrop variety for AD/biogas feedstock, grain for feed, flour or distilling.”  

SU Baresi has a yield of 103% and is dual purpose – grain or biomass – relatively early to mature and stiff strawed, so it should appeal to growers across the UK, Stephen says.  

SU Perspectiv, with a 102% yield on the DL, is also a dual-purpose variety and excels in the North, he adds.  

“In trials in North Yorkshire and Scotland it recorded very high yields of 108% and this should heighten its appeal to growers in these important regions.” 

New for 2024

New to the UK for 2024 is SU Karlsson, which is “an out and out biogas variety”, outperforming other SU and competitor varieties on gas yields by 4.5% in Saaten’s trials, according to Stephen.  

“With strong spring vigour plus a robust disease package including a 7 for brown rust I believe it will gain good traction in the market this year,” he said.  

For growers looking for a good agronomic insurance policy, he said it’s also worth remembering that all SU varieties are blended with a 10% population rye pollinator, SU Bebop. 

This ensures that this pollinator variety flowers at the same time as the main crop. “The use of a pollinator variety continues to be a very successful way of reducing ergot infection in SU varieties,” concludes Stephen.  

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