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Surge in growth of hybrid rye sees UK area increase again by 25%

Wholecrop rye for biogas production is still the biggest market, so choosing high performing AD varieties is the key for most growers, says independent agronomist Craig Green.

With around 50,000ha of hybrid rye drilled last year – up 25% from the year before ­– the hybrid rye sector continues to show significant year-on-year growth in the UK.

Independent agronomist, Craig Green.

According to independent agronomist Craig Green, of CMG Agronomy (pictured above), the agronomic benefits of rye are clear; with its over-riding performance over winter wheat on light land, aggressive early growth smothering blackgrass, and requirement for fewer agrochemical inputs due to its efficient utilisation of nitrogen and phosphorus.

“There’s no doubt that rye fits well into wheat rotations. It’s an excellent crop choice for growers and can be drilled and harvested early, helping to spread the workload on farm. Its agronomic benefits also equate directly into economic benefits for growers seeking to improve their profit margins by lowering input costs. It requires far less fertiliser than winter wheat and performs extremely well in drought conditions, where its aggressive root system is able to seek out water and key nutrients.

“Of the 50,000ha of rye grown in the UK, wholecrop for biogas production is by far the biggest market, accounting for around half the UK crop area and, having set up the first independent Norfolk based trials site several years ago, it’s given myself, my customers and other rye growers an unbiased view when assessing new hybrid rye varieties that stand out in a biogas situation.

“Of the five new winter hybrid rye varieties that went onto the AHDB 2022/23 Descriptive list (DL) last December, four were bred by Saaten Union – a remarkable feat that should not be overlooked. Having worked with both Saaten Union and their UK partner Elsoms Seeds for several years going right back to the variety SU Drive, their first rye variety which proved to be a step ahead on former market leaders, they’ve clearly established a very strong pipeline of varieties that are well suited to UK growing conditions.

“With most of my growers working on a pound per tonne basis it’s all about sourcing new varieties that can produce consistently high yields and, following the success of SU Performer which had set the benchmark in recent years, Saaten Union and Elsoms now seem to have another winner in SU Arvid, a variety that went onto the DL in 2021/22, offering a significant step forward in yield than Performer, lower inputs, and which can be grown on a wider range of soils.

“Trialling SU Arvid with three customers last year, they all averaged 48.5t/ha on wholecrop yields – 2.5t/ha higher than they’d previously achieved with any other hybrid rye. The variety holds its tillers over the winter months very well and offer growers better brown rust resistance than SU Performer. Recent grower reports confirm that its in-field performance is better than its overall RL ratings when compared to other varieties that we’ve trialled and, as a much thicker walled plant with a stiffer stem, it translates into a much heavier plant in the clamp,” concludes Mr Green.

Saaten Union UK’s Andrew Creasy.

Endorsing Mr Green’s assessment on SU Arvid, Saaten Union UK cereal product manager, Andrew Creasy (pictured above), sees a strong future for rye cropping in the UK with a prediction, shared by other breeders and industry experts, that the UK rye area could potentially double in size within the next few years.

“SU hybrid rye varieties have established an excellent track record over the last 10 years and are readily identifiable for strong attributes that suit UK farm rotations including early vigour and early drilling. In trials, it’s that consistent ability of SU varieties to achieve the critical 32% dry matter figure a little bit quicker than competitors which makes all the difference – particularly when temperatures begin to rise in June.

“Strong commercial relationships, such as our partnership with Ryvita who specifically seek out varieties such as SU Mephisto for milling and baking have helped to establish our credentials in the rye sector. However, with the bulk of the UK area aimed at wholecrop AD, it’s the step forward in gas yields achieved by new wholecrop varieties such as SU Arvid and SU Baresi that should attract the attention of many growers.

“With notable performances in breeding hybrid rye varieties for wholecrop, we have recently increased our efforts in screening varieties specifically for wholecrop quality. For 2022 we will be launching our first dedicated wholecrop trial to replicate the positive results we’re seeing from varieties such as SU Arvid and SU Baresi in real farm situations.

“Results from our 2021 trials have already shown that SU Baresi achieved a 6% higher total gas yield m3/t than the control variety. At 102%, it’s a high yielder and, with a strong disease profile and good lodging resistance, it has the potential to secure a good percentage of the market. With 4 of the 5 new rye varieties on the 2022/23 DL in SU Baresi, SU Bendix, SU Elrond and SU Pluralis our future pipeline looks very strong and that’s good news for UK rye growers,” says Mr Creasy.

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