Last updated on February 23, 2014

Note: This information was developed from lecture notes for the Farm and Industry Short Course at the University of Wisconsin.


  • Rye is an annual or winter annual grass (Diploid 2n=14)
  • There are many wild species, but only one cultivated specie - Secale cereale L.
  • Historically, rye is considered a recently domesticated crops


  • Rye resembles other small grains - 7 leaves, alternate leaf arrangement, etc.
  • EXCEPTIONS - Stems are larger and longer (taller plants) - Leaves are more coarse - Has very small auricle
  • ROOTS Rye is deeper rooting than other small grains - May penetrate 5-6' into the soil


  • The infloresence of rye is a spike - similar to wheat 
  • Spikelets - arranged alternately on a zigzag rachis - single spikelet at each rachis node - each spikelet contains 3 florets - Two primaries and a secondary - Secondary may be sterile except under thin planting or fertile soil conditions 2
  • Each floret contains 3 stamens and a pistil - lemma may be awned
  • Spikelets are subtended by 2 narrow glumes


  • Rye is a cross-pollinating crop - Most varieties have self-sterility alleles
  • Anthers extrude from the florets during flowering - promotes cross pollination
  • Pollination begins in central part of spike and proceeds upward and downward over a 2-3 day period


Rye is not an important crop in the U.S.

Rye is important in parts of Europe and Russia that have - POOR SOILS - SEVERE WINTERS

Wheat is usually grown and consumed in preference to rye where the CLIMATE and SOILS are favorable for wheat growth


  • RUSSIA (about 45% of total acreage) 
  • Only countries with > 1 million acres annually = WEST and EAST GERMANY, TURKEY, POLAND, CHINA 
  • US acreage has been decreasing - all U.S. rye is winter rye Leading states: S. DAK., GEORGIA, MINN, N. DAK.


Rye has a number of characteristics which confer wide adaptability

WINTER HARDINESS - hardiest of all cereals

COOL CONDITIONS - will germinate and grow at temps as low as 33oF Desired temp range is 50-75oF

LOW RAINFALL - More drought tolerant than the other small grains

SANDY, ACID SOILS (Poor fertility) - Rye will tolerate these conditions better than the other small grains. Highest rye yields occur in fertile soils. However, other higher value small grains (wheat, oats, barley) usually outyield rye unless fertility levels are low

GROWTH - Tall plants - high straw yields 5

LONG DAY PLANT - requires increasing daylength to induce flowering

GROWTH PERIOD - rye has a shorter growth period than other winter and spring cereals


Among small grains, rye requires the least care in preparing a seedbed - Adaptable to minimum tillage - Disk corn stalks and drill if following corn with rye - If following another small grain, can drill directly into stubble or broadcast and disk lightly Seeding date - may be seeded 1 to 2 weeks later than winter wheat in a given area Rye seed can lose germination rapidly - seed that has been stored for more than 3-4 months should be tested for germination Most of the U.S. rye crop is plowed under as a green manure crop

Some rye is GRAZED

Harvesting - Rye is a free-threshing crop - Should be timely, as rye shatters readily In addition to reducing yields, this causes problems when following rye with other small grains


Principle uses of harvested rye in the US are:

  • Distillation - alcoholic beverages 
  • Feed - for livestock When fed alone, rye is rather unpalatable Better to mix with other feeds Rel low in prot %, but protein has good quality 
  • Food - Bread making - Rye flour alone produces a heavy loaf of bread, so rye flour is usually mixed with 25-50% wheat flour to improve palatability - Wheat flour causes dough to rise more than rye flour - Ergot in rye can be toxic to humans and animals


  • Harvesting winter rye as forage at mid-boot/early heading is a common practice in Manitowoc County
  • Fall of 1985 - 1,500 acres planted in Manitowoc Co. Fall of 1988 - 18,000 acres planted in Manitowoc Co.
  • Usually harvest in mid/late May, incorporate stubble, and follow with corn for silage
  • Forage yields usually average about 2 1/2 tons/a (dry basis)

How is rye forage fed? - Depends on how much haylage remains - Objective is to harvest and ensile rye about 1 month before feeding it to allow for fermentation - Dairymen in the area often exhaust alfalfa supplies in late May/early June - High producing cows are usually fed a mixture of ryelage and haylage - Ratio depends on how much haylage is left 8

Complete ryelage is usually fed to heifers and dry cows - Dairymen have been quite satisfied with ryelage


Rye has four numerical grades and sample grade

If you would like to subscribe (or unsubscribe) to updates during the growing season, click here.
©  1994-2024