By: Joel Peru, PAg, CCA, Irrigation Agrologist
Producers often don’t think of fall rye as being a high-grossing crop. The development of hybrid fall rye varieties with high yield potential and improved grain quality may change that perception. These hybrids offer many benefits compared to their open pollinated counterparts, including reduced height, higher yield potential and better quality, allowing access to more markets. Hybrid varieties such a Brassetto, Bono and Guttino are available in Saskatchewan and have proven to be high performing in local field trials.
There are many reasons why a producer would consider including fall rye in their crop rotation in Saskatchewan:
- Inclusion of a fall-seeded crop in a crop rotation plan can help producers with time management due to the different seeding date and earlier harvest than spring-seeded crops.
- Fall rye has an extensive rooting system that can help prevent erosion. This is a particular benefit to irrigators who would have had a potato crop.
- Fall rye is very competitive and can result in reduced weed pressure and herbicide costs.
- Since it is a winter annual, fall rye can also be useful for breaking broad leaf crop disease cycles and adding diversity into a crop rotation.
- Hybrid varieties produce grain with a high falling number, which allows it to enter the bread-making market.
Hybrid varieties come at a high cost ($60/acre for seed) and have slightly less winter hardiness than open pollinated rye. This is a high-input crop that should be treated like high-yielding winter wheat and grown on productive land. Producers should not use seed generated from previous hybrid rye crops, due to a reduction of vigour resulting in a large decrease in yield potential.
Fall rye is susceptible to ergot. Ergot infection will reduce the quality of the crop and may make it unsuitable for human consumption. An Agriculture Development Fund (ADF) grant has been given to Jamie Larson, a fall rye breeder out of Lethbridge, to try to find an agronomic solution to ergot infection.
The Irrigation Crop Diversification Corporation conducted variety trials of fall rye in 2016 at the Canada-Saskatchewan Irrigation Diversification Centre in Outlook (Figure 1). This trial was intended to add to the limited agronomic knowledge for this crop under irrigation and dryland conditions. Conventional and hybrid varieties were evaluated. A side-by-side comparison between dryland and irrigated production was available for producers to view. This demonstration illustrated the increase in performance of a hybrid rye compared to conventional rye varieties when water and nutrients are not limiting factors. As expected, the three hybrids (Brassetto, Guttino and Bono) outperformed the open pollinated varieties. Yields of 140-160 bu/acre were harvested from the hybrid varieties under irrigation. The highest-performing open pollinated variety, Hazlet, yielded 120 bu/acre. In the dryland study the hybrids also significantly displayed their advantage, with Brassetto yielding 130 bu/acre, a 12 per cent higher yield than Hazlet. With the yields seen in this trial and the desire to find higher-value markets, hybrid fall rye may be an attractive crop with the potential for considerable profit.