E. A. Oelke1, E. S. Oplinger2, H. Bahri1, B. R. Durgan1, D. H. Putnam1, J. D. Doll2, and K. A. Kelling2

1Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108.
2Departments of Agronomy and Soil Science, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Cooperative Extension Service, University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI 53706.
September, 1990.

I. History:

Cultivated rye (Secale cereale) is believed to have originated from either S. montanum, a wild species found in southern Europe and nearby parts of Asia, or from S. anatolicum, a wild rye found in Syria, Armenia, Iran, Turkestan, and the Kirghis Steppe. Rye was found as a weed widely distributed in wheat and barley fields in southern Asia. It apparently had coevolved with wheat and barley for over 2,000 years until its value as a crop was recognized. Rye was brought to the western hemisphere by the English and Dutch who settled in the northeastern areas of what is now the United States. The average production in the United States in 1987-89 was about 15.9 million bushels on some 2.3 million acres. The leading states in rye production are South Dakota, Georgia, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Minnesota. In 1930 Minnesota grew 7.2 million acres of rye for grain, while in 1989 there were 32,000 Minnesota acres harvested and Wisconsin harvested rye from 6,000 acres. The average yield in 1920 was 17 bushels per acre, while in 1989 it was 34 bushels in the Upper Midwest.

II. Uses:

Less than 50% of the rye grown in the U.S. is harvested for grain, with the remainder used as pasture, hay, or as a cover crop. About half of the amount harvested for grain is used for livestock feed or exported, and the remainder is used for alcoholic beverages, food, and seed. In the Midwest, rye is primarily grown for grain, but occasionally for hay or pasture. It can also be grown as a cover or green manure crop. In addition to contributing organic matter, rye reduces soil erosion and enhances water penetration and retention. Furthermore, due to its allelopathic effect, some evidence suggests that rye could be exploited for weed control. It has been widely reported that residues of fall-planted, spring-killed rye reduces total weed biomass by 60% to 95% when compared to controls with no residue. Rye residue which remains at the soil surface can potentially modify the physical and chemical environment during seed germination and plant growth.

A. Human food:

Although rye flour does not develop true gluten, it has proteins which give it the capacity for making a nutritious leavened bread. Rye is usually mixed with 25 to 50% wheat flour for bread making.

B. Livestock feed:

Grain: Rye grain has a feeding value of about 85 to 90% that of corn, and contains more digestible protein and total digestible nutrients than oat or barley. Rye is most satisfactorily used when mixed with other grains at a proportion less than a third, because it is not highly palatable and is sticky when chewed.

Forage: Rye makes excellent forage especially when combined with red or crimson clover and ryegrass. For best quality, cut rye between early heading and the milk stage of growth. Yields and quality of rye harvested as forage compared to winter wheat and winter triticale are shown in Table 5. Rye matures earlier than wheat or triticale and has the highest crude protein levels. However, forage yields are lower than for the other two small grains, resulting in somewhat lower crude protein yields and overall lower relative feed values. Thus, the main advantages winter rye has as a forage as compared to winter wheat or winter triticale, is that it is more winter hardy and reaches optimum harvest maturity 7 to 10 days earlier.

Pasture: Rye generally provides more forage than other small grains in late fall and early spring because of its rapid growth and its adaptation to low temperatures. Although rye is a less palatable pasture crop, it is readily grazed when other green forages are not available. In the Upper Midwest, care must be taken not to overgraze rye in the spring or fall due to the short growing season.

C. Cover and green manure crop:

Fall sown rye holds more snow and rainfall than does a bare field. It also preserves soil moisture in the spring, since there is no spring seedbed preparation. It provides fall, winter, and spring soil cover when the potential for wind and water erosion losses are substantial in plowed fields. Rye as a cover crop fits well into many erosion control programs. Land going into potatoes, soybean, or corn can be protected over winter by a rye cover crop. Rye can be also used as an emergency cover to fill gaps between other crops, or if a crop is removed early because of failure, rye can be seeded to protect the soil until time to plant the next crop. It can also be used as a winter cover crop for continuous minimum tillage corn when the corn crop is harvested early. When corn or soybean are sod-planted, rye can be seeded in the fall and then killed with herbicides prior to planting. Rye should not be grown between crops of wheat or barley, unless it is completely killed before wheat or barley are planted in the spring.

As a green manure crop, rye is particularly suitable because of its winter hardiness and its rapid growth early in the spring. It should be plowed or disked when about 20 in. tall.

III. Growth Habits:

Winter rye generally overwinters in the tillering stage. The winter temperatures near freezing satisfy the vernalization requirement and allow the plants to initiate reproductive development the following spring. Rye varieties are long day plants, but they do not have an absolute requirement for a specific day length. Rye is cross pollinated, and relies on wind-borne pollen. The florets remain open for some time, but if conditions are not favorable for cross-pollination, rye spikes may have several empty florets. The inflorescence is a spike with one sessile spikelet per rachis node. Spikelet initiation begins in the middle of the spike and proceeds toward the tip and base. Only the two basal florets in each spikelet produce seed. Spring rye does not require vernalization to induce flowering. Varieties of spring rye in general are less productive than winter rye in the Upper Midwest.

IV. Environment Requirements:

A. Climate:

Rye can be grown in a wider range of environmental conditions than any other small grain. Winter rye is the most winter hardy of all cereals. Rye will usually make considerable growth during the cool temperatures of late fall, and resumes growth very quickly in the early spring. However, rye cannot survive the winter in pot holes or other wet areas where water collects or ice sheets form.

B. Soil:

Winter rye is more productive than other cereals on infertile, sandy, or acid soils, as well as on poorly prepared land. For best results however, rye should be planted on well prepared, fertile, well drained soils, having a pH of 5.6 to 5.8 or higher. Rye grows better on light loams and sandy soils than on heavy clay soils. It is also able to germinate in relatively dry soils, and is fairly tolerant to droughty conditions.

C. Seed Preparation and Germination:

Seed should be free of weeds and ergot bodies, and have at least 85% germination. Stored rye seed loses its ability to germinate more rapidly than do other cereals. It is recommended to buy Certified seed, that has proven adaptation to local conditions. Fungicide seed treatments used for other small grains are suitable for use on rye, and often can improve stands.

V. Cultural practices:

A. Seedbed Preparation:

For best results, plant rye in a firm, well prepared seedbed. On fall plowed ground, disk and harrow and then drill rye. If fall plowing is not possible, particularly after corn harvesting, disk and drill the rye into the soil. Rye is sometimes drilled into small grain stubble without previous preparation. This practice is economical and satisfactory in reasonably weed-free land. In addition to the economy of labor, it also leaves the stubble to hold the snow and protect the rye plant from winter killing.

B. Seeding Date:

The time of seeding depends on the use of the crop. Winter rye can be generally seeded from late summer to late fall. However, when grown for grain, rye should be seeded at about the same time as winter wheat, but can be seeded safely as much as 2 weeks later. The best time to seed winter rye is from August 15 to September 10 in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, and from September 5 to September 30 in southern areas of the two states. If winter rye is planted in August, cattle can lightly graze the crop, but enough vegetation must remain standing to control soil erosion. When rye is grown for pasture, cover crop or green manure, seeding date should be 2 to 8 weeks earlier than for a grain crop to insure a heavy blanket of growth for protection over winter. However, rye is also successfully planted the first two weeks of October after harvesting potatoes to provide winter cover and a green manure crop.

C. Method and Rate of Seeding:

Plant rye in 6 or 7 in. rows at a rate of 60 to 90 lb/acre, and to a depth of 1 to 2 in. with a grain drill. Higher seeding rates might be needed when planting later than desired or when perennial weed control is important.

D. Fertility:

Winter rye and winter wheat respond similarly to nutrient additions. Soil tests are the best guide on which to base fertilizer rates. Phosphorus and potash should be applied in the fall although improved efficiency can be achieved by banding phosphate directly below the seed at planting, especially on high pH soils. The nitrogen application should be split, especially on lighter soils with one part applied at planting, and the rest by topdressing in the spring.

Rye should be fertilized when grown for pasture or as a cover crop. Fall application of nitrogen and phosphorus increases fall growth, which improves winter ground cover. A spring top dressing with nitrogen is desirable where rye is pastured. Heavy nitrogen applications promote lodging in rye grown for grain. A moderate rate (about 10 ton/acre) of manure is a good general fertilizer.

Table 1: Recommended fertilizer applications for a goal of 30 to 50 bu/acre rye yield.
Soil test N1 P2O5 K2 O
  ---------- lb/acre ----------
Very low or low 40 40-50 50-80
Medium 40 20-30 30-60
High 40 15-20 0-30
Very high or excessively high 40 0 0
1Recommended nitrogen rates ranges from 20 to 60 lb N/acre depending on cropping history and soil organic matter level. If the previous crop was alfalfa, red or sweet clover, no supplemental N is recommended.

E. Variety Selection:

Several winter rye varieties have been developed and are recommended for planting in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Recommended Varieties:

Hancock: High yield, fair winter hardiness, medium late, medium height, and good lodging resistance. Large seed of predominantly tan color and high test weight. Originated by Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station from crosses involving Von Lochow and Wisconsin synthetics of tan seed color. Released in 1979.

Muskateer: High yield, good winter hardiness, medium late, medium height, and poor lodging resistance. Large seed of green color and medium test weight. Originated by Agriculture Canada, Swift Current, from crosses to Harrach, Petkus, and Dakold. Licensed in 1980. Production of certified seed limited to Canada.

Rymin: High yield, fair winter hardiness, medium late, medium height, and good lodging resistance. Large seed of predominantly greenish-gray color and high test weight. Originated by Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station from a cross of Von Lochow and WR5. Released in 1973.

Other Varieties

Aroostook: Low yield, good winter hardiness, very early, tall, and poor lodging resistance. Small seed of brown and tan color, and low test weight. Selected from Balbo by USDA Soil Conservation Service in New York. Released by USDA, Cornell University, and Maine Department of Agriculture in 1981.

Cougar: Medium yield, winter-hardy (only fair hardiness in eastern Minnesota trials), late, medium height. Fair lodging resistance. Small green and tan seed, medium test weight. Originated by University of Manitoba from an open-pollinated selection in a composite cross of European and Canadian varieties. Licensed 1967.

Dankowski Nowe (Danko): Medium yield, poor winter hardiness, late, medium height, and good lodging resistance. Very large predominantly green seed, high test weight. Developed by Dankow-Laski and Choryn experiment stations. Reported to be the leading variety in Poland.

Frederick: Medium yield, good winter hardiness, medium late, medium height, and poor lodging resistance. Medium size seed of predominantly tan color and high test weight. Selected from Von Lochow by South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station. Released in 1984.

Metzi: Medium yield, medium late, tall with average lodging resistance. The seed is predominantly green and high test weight. Released by Nutriseed Company.

Puma: Medium yield, good winter hardiness, medium late, medium height, and poor lodging resistance. Small predominantly green seed, medium test weight. Winter-hardy selection from Dominant by University of Manitoba. Licensed 1972.

Von Lochow: Medium yield, fair to poor winter hardiness, medium late, medium height, and good lodging resistance. Large seed of predominantly green color and high test weight. Obtained from F. Von Lochow-Petkus Ltd. of Germany in 1958. Released by Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station in 1964.

F. Weed Control:

1. Cultural and Mechanical:

Winter annuals and/or perennials are usually the major weed problem in fall sown cereal grains. Perennial weeds should be controlled by tillage or herbicides before or during seedbed preparation. Establishment of dense stands before winter will enable the rye to compete well with weeds.

2. Chemical:

Rye competes well with weeds, and herbicides are generally not needed. Bromoxynil (Buctril), MCPA, and 2,4-D are the only herbicides labelled for broadleaf weed control in rye. These herbicides are applied in the spring. Roundup can be applied preplant prior to tillage to control perennial weeds. While there are no post emergent herbicides registered for grass weed control in rye, these weeds are generally not a problem with vigorous, dense rye stands.

G. Diseases and Their Control:

Fewer diseases attack rye than other cereals. Ergot is the most serious disease in rye.

1. Ergot:

Rye is more sensitive to ergot than other cereals. When rye contains 0.5% or more of ergot, it is considered unfit for food or feed. The ergot disease is characterized by large spur-like purplish-black bodies (sclerotinia) that replace the kernel in the rye spikelet. Ergot bodies overwinter in the field, or with the seed in storage, and germinate under favorable conditions in the spring. The disease can be partly controlled by sowing ergot-free seed or year old-seed on land where rye has not been grown for 1 or 2 years previously. The mowing of ergot infested grasses adjacent to rye fields is also helpful. Resistant varieties are not yet available. Ergot bodies can be removed by immersing infested rye in a 20% salt solution. The grain is stirred, and ergot bodies float to the surface where they can be skimmed off. The salt must be washed from the seed, and the seed partly dried before it is sown.

2. Stem or stalk smut:

This is a very common disease on rye, particularly in Minnesota and nearby states. The symptoms appear first as lead gray, long narrow streaks on the stems, sheaths, and the blades. These streaks later turn black. Infected plants are darker green than normal and somewhat dwarfed. The stems usually are twisted or distorted, and the heads fail to emerge from the sheath. Spores can be carried both on the seed and in the soil. Disease control could be achieved by seed treatment and crop rotation where the spores are soil-borne. Resistant varieties are also available.

3. Anthracnose:

This common rye disease is especially prevalent in the humid and subhumid eastern United States. Infected tissues are stained brown on the leaf sheath that surrounds the diseased stem. Head infections cause shriveled, light brown kernels. Infected plants often ripen or die prematurely.

4. Rusts:

Leaf rust: Severe infections of leaf rust are largely confined to the southern range of U.S. rye production, and cause a reduction of tillering and grain yield. The disease overwinters in the leaves of rye as dormant mycelium. Destruction of volunteer rye in stubble fields will aid in control of this disease.

Stem rust: The early maturity of rye usually enables it to escape serious damage from stem rust. Common barberry is the alternate host.

H. Insects and Other Predators and their Control:

Rye is attacked by many of the same insects that attack other small grains. Serious losses on rye are not common. Early sown winter rye provide a favorable environment for the deposition of grasshopper eggs, which may promote grasshopper injury to other crops.

I. Crop Rotations:

Rye is useful in rotations designed to control certain hard-to-control weeds. Alternating intensive summer fallow with winter rye and repeated summer tillage after rye harvest is effective against troublesome annual and perennial weeds such as quackgrass, sowthistle, Canada thistle, and wild oats. In rotations that include a small grain, rye may replace wheat, oats, or barley. Winter wheat should not follow rye in a rotation because of volunteer rye.

J. Harvesting:

Rye can be harvested and threshed in one operation with a combine, or swathed and later threshed. To reduce shatter loss when direct combining, begin harvest at about 22% moisture and follow by drying. Moisture content needs to be below 15% to avoid discounts at elevators. Sprout damage can occur during harvest or storage in some years. Some buyers have used the "falling number" test to check for sprouted grain and have discounted grain with a low value.

K. Drying and Storage:

Many rye producers will store grain and sell at peak markets. Grain moisture should be 12% for long term storage. During storage, the grain needs to be aerated to control the temperature of the stored grain to avoid moisture buildup in bins during changing outdoor temperatures.

VI. Yield Potential and Performance Results:

State average yields of rye are commonly only 20 to 40 bu/acre. Yields of 70 to 80 bu/acre can be obtained with good management.

Table 2: Yields of winter rye varieties in Minnesota.
Variety Rosemount
Grand Rapids
5 locations
  ------------------------------ bu/acre ------------------------------
Hancock 59 46 57 62 48 54
Musketeer 58 47 60 72 47 57
Rymin 58 50 60 67 50 57
LSD 5% 2 4 3 5 4 2

Table 3: Yields of winter rye varieties in Wisconsin.
Variety Arlington Madison Hancock Spooner Mean
1989 Yields -------------------- bu/acre --------------------
Hancock 65 61 26 19 43
Metzi 53 62 25 15 39
LSD 5% 8 7 4 4 3
1987-89 Yields (1986,89) (1986,87,89)
Hancock 83 70 22 19 55

Table 4: Characteristics of winter rye varieties in Minnesota averaged over five locations and five years.
Variety Winterkill Heading
Lodging Height Seeds Testweight
  % May July score1 inches no./lb lb/bu
Hancock 9 30 23 2.9 53 15,600 55
Musketeer 4 29 22 3.1 53 16,200 56
Rymin 6 30 23 2.7 52 16,200 56
11=erect, 9=flat.

Table 5: Performance of winter cereals harvested at early heading from the boot at Arlington, Wisconsin, 1986-88.1
Crop Harvest
Height at harvest date Forage yield Crude Protein ADF NDF Relative feed value2
  in ton/acre % lb/acre % %  
Winter wheat 5/31 33 3.67 11.8 872 35.9 63.8 89
Winter rye 5/19 37 3.04 13.8 833 37.6 65.1 85
Winter triticale 6/2 37 3.56 12.4 879 36.1 64.2 88
1From M.A. Brinkman, A.B.G. Mostafa, and K.A. Albrecht, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

VII. Economics of Production and Markets:

Production costs for rye would be similar to those for wheat and barley with somewhat reduced herbicide and fertilizer costs. Rye straw can often be sold at a premium for bedding or to fruit and vegetable producers who prefer rye straw as mulch.

The price of rye will fluctuate during the year and growers need to market at peak prices for maximum profit. Most local grain elevators will purchase rye.

VIII. Information Sources:

Winter Rye Production. 1986. W.S. Ball, A. Schneiter and T. Conlon. Folder A-916. Cooperative Extension Service, North Dakota State University. 4 p.

Winter Rye Rate of Sowing, Row Spacing, Varietal Mixtures and Crosses. 1970. R.G. Robinson, R.H. Anderson, W.E. Lueschen, W.W. Nelson and D.D. Warnes. Misc. Report 100. Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Minnesota. 8 p.

Varietal Trials of Farm Crops. 1990. L.L. Hardman, (Ed.), Minnesota Report 24 (AD-MR-1953). Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Minnesota. 46 p.

Cultural and Chemical Weed Control in Field Crops - Small Grains. 1990. B.R. Durgan. Agric. Bulletin 3157. Minnesota Extension Service, University of Minnesota. p. 24-36.

Guide to Computer Programmed Soil Test Recommendations for Field Crops in Minnesota. 1986. G.W. Rehm, C.J. Rosen, J.F. Moncreif, W.E. Fenster and J. Grava. Agric. Bulletin 0519. 36 p.

Small Grain Varieties for Wisconsin. 1990. E.S. Oplinger, R.A. Forsberg, and M.A. Brinkman. A3397, University of Wisconsin-Extension. 9 p.

Forage and Small Grain Pest Management in Wisconsin. 1990. J.D. Doll, J.L. Wedberg, C.R. Grau, G.L. Worf, R.A. Flashinski. A1981, University of Wisconsin-Extension. 56 p.

Reference to seed dealers and pesticide products in this publication are for your convenience and are not an endorsement of one product over other similar products. You are responsible for using pesticides according to the manufacturer's current label directions. Follow directions exactly to protect people and the environment from pesticide exposure. Failure to do so violates the law.

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