Bury St Edmunds: Seed firm KWS launches UK rye campaign

Simon Witheford, Bill Lankford and Jacob Nymand at Ickworth

Simon Witheford, Bill Lankford and Jacob Nymand at Ickworth - Credit: Archant

A German seed company is hoping to put rye on the UK map by encouraging more farmers to grow the versatile crop.

Simon Witheford, Bill Lankford and Jacob Nymand at Ickworth

Simon Witheford, Bill Lankford and Jacob Nymand at Ickworth - Credit: Archant

Currently, hybrid rye in the UK is a very niche crop used to make Ryvita, but in other parts of Europe, including Germany and Scandinavia, it is grown on a much larger scale for human and animal consumption as well as to feed biogas plants, a conference at Bury St Edmunds heard.

Seed firm KWS, which has a UK base at Thriplow in Cambridgeshire and is the leading European breeder of hybrid rye, hopes to encourage pig producers to adopt it as part of their feed regime as a starting point for getting it more widely adopted by farmers here.

Danish agronomist Jacob Nymand told delegates gathered at Ickworth House for an information session on rye held on Tuesday that for a period the crop became increasingly popular but suffered a setback due to outbreaks of ergot, a poisonous fungus which grows parasitically in rye and to a lesser extent on other grains. However a new Pollen Plus technique for preventing outbreaks meant that there were now very few problems with ergot, he said, as he explained the financial and other benefits of growing rye.

He admitted that it was a crop which requires care with drilling and drilling temperatures, but yields were high.

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“We have found out that growing hybrid rye as a grain it’s very, very correct. You have to have correct drilling depths and it’s 2cm. That’s it - no question about it. We have done lots of tests,” he said. “But it has to be covered with soil.”

There also needed to be a crop rotation so that rye wasn’t grown after rye, otherwise voluntary seeds would mix with the new ones, causing crop differences.

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Hybrid rye performed well in comparison with other cereals, he said. Magnifico and Palazzo were the main varieties used in Denmark and yield was increasing, he said, which was why farmers there were very interested in growing it.

Its advantages included that was much more efficient at using nitrogen than other grain crops, with deeper root systems.

In Denmark, which has a population of 5million, there were 25m pigs, recently reduced to 20m due to Russian sanctions, and rye was successfully used in feed, he said. The Danes were using rye in a more sustainable agricultural system than in the UK and following on with cover crops.

It was also a good alternative to maize as a crop to feed biogas plants, and the statistics compared well, he said.

“Rye has a great yield potential at low production costs,” he said. “It has a very high yield potential on all soil types. It grows better in dry conditions.”

It held water better than other cereals and had the lowest production costs, with a flexible seeding time, an early harvest compared to alternatives and was a “strong” crop which could withstand frosts.

Where it was used for biogas, it could help wipe out blackgrass as it outgrows the weed. The weakened plant can be harvested with the rye crop, and the biogas process kills off the seeds.

As part of a feed mix, it has less protein content than wheat, which has the higher feeding value. It also has more fibre, which means the animal’s stomach remains fuller for longer, and KWS is looking at whether there are benefits to this.

“The plan is this hybrid rye will take over as the main grain for feed for pigs and cattle,” said Jacob.

KWS has calculated that hybrid rye overall was more profitable than winter wheat when grown on light soil, and to a slightly lesser extent on heavy soil.

As a forage crop, it provides an alternative to clover for grazing animals, although it has to remain free of mildew, he explained.

KWS’s Simon Witheford saw potential for rye crops in the home milling market, particularly for pig producers growing their own feed.

KWS was “starting from very low levels” in the UK, with only a few small pockets of the crop on the Suffolk coast and in Yorkshire.

“As we grow more in the UK, we’ll bring most of our seed production into the UK, whereas 95% is coming from Denmark and Germany and that will bring the cost down (of the seeds),” he said.

Sales manager Bill Lankford said they had been looking at rye over the last few years and its performance in trials had been “fantastic”.

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