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Secale cereale L.

Gramineae, Poaceae

Source: Magness et al. 1971

Rye in the United States was planted on about 3.8 million acres (1966-67), but only about 0.33 of that acreage was harvested for grain. The rest was used for hay, silage, pasture, erosion control or plowed under for soil improvement. Production of grain for the two years averaged 25.9 million bushels. Most of the rye for grain is produced in the NorthCentral States.

The rye plant grows rapidly and vigorously from seed, resulting in a rapid cover valuable for erosion control or early pasture. Selected varieties are bardier to cold than other cereal grains, so rye as a winter crop can be grown in areas too cold for winter wheat. Also, rye will produce better on light, sandy soils and on soils of low fertility than other small grains. Because rye develops rapidly, especially in early spring, it can be plowed in early and still give a good volume of organic matter for soil improvement. Rye as pasture or hay is less palatable than other small grains or legumes but is readily grazed if other grazing is not available.

Rye as a grain crop is similar in most respects to wheat. Practically all the rye for grain is sown in the fall and harvested in early summer. It is earlier maturing than wheat. Stems reach 3 to 5 feet in height. The spikes are 3 to 5 inches long, slender and awned. Spikelets generally contain two fertile flowers. Seeds are enclosed in the palea and lemma, as in wheat, but tend to protrude when near ripe, so are less completely enclosed than in wheat. The seed threshes free of the palea and lemma. The seeds tend to shatter or fall out when ripe. For this reason, coupled with earlier ripening, rye may be a bad weed in wheat fields.

Uses of rye grain: Rye is second only to wheat for flour production. Milling of rye is essentially similar to wheat. Baked goods made with rye flour have a distinctive flavor. As feed, rye is not relished by livestock, so rye grain is usually fed in mixtures with other cereals. In nutritive value rye is a little lower than wheat. Substantial quantities of rye are also used for making distilled alcoholic beverages.

Last update July 1, 1996 bha