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There’s a Revolution Going on in the Hybrid Rye Space and Alberta is Playing a Big Role

Hybrid rye seed production is in flux, with KWS taking charge of its production and distribution to farmers, while FP Genetics works with SeedNet to bring in fresh varieties from Saaten-Union.
Kenny Piecharka of Lethbridge recently took over as country lead for KWS Seeds Canada at an exciting time for the crop the company specializes in: hybrid fall rye.

Over the past decade, hybrid fall rye has made significant strides in Canada, particularly in Western Canada.

Hybrid rye varieties have captured approximately half of Western Canada’s rye acreage in the last decade. This adoption has been driven by their superior performance, especially under favourable rye-growing conditions.

These European-based hybrid varieties have delivered a remarkable yield increase of more than 20% compared to open-pollinated varieties. In optimal conditions, hybrid fall rye has become a game-changer for farmers, providing higher productivity.

“This success has paved the way for us to introduce technology that delivers tangible returns on investment for farmers here in Canada,” says Piecharka, who takes over as KWS country lead for Herman Wehrle.

“At the same time, factors like reduced inputs and time savings further enhance its appeal, offering farmers improved efficiency and performance.”

Unlike open-pollinated rye, hybrid rye results from controlled crossbreeding between two distinct parent lines. This deliberate hybridization introduces genetic diversity and enhances desirable traits.

Hybrid rye was first introduced to Canadian farmers around 10 years ago and was brought to Western Canada on a trial basis. It was immediately successful, showing a consistent 30-35% yield increase over conventional rye.

The development of hybrid rye varieties was pioneered by KWS Cereals in Germany in 1986. Recognizing the crop’s long growing season and efficient use of nutrients and water, KWS partnered with FP Genetics to bring these hybrids to Canada in 2014.

In 2015, support for the full registration of Brasetto and Guttino for Western Canada was established, along with the interim registration of KWS Bono. This marked a significant step in making hybrid rye a viable option for Canadian farmers.

There’s substantial growth potential ahead, particularly for hybrid rye to claim a larger share of the market. Currently, open pollinated rye dominates two-thirds of our acreage in North America, leaving ample room for KWS hybrids to expand their footprint.

“As a feed crop, rye offers notable health benefits, especially in swine, a fact well-recognized in Europe where 60% of the grain serves the swine market. However, in Canada, we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of this potential,” Piecharka says.

The growth trajectory could be significant, potentially increasing from less than one to as much as three per cent of total acreage. Additionally, the sustainability advantages rye brings are increasingly valued, with Europe witnessing it as the sole cereal seeing acreage growth. Canada may follow suit, he adds, especially with the emphasis on reduced herbicide and nitrogen use.

“Currently, yield remains a primary driver for farmers, but there’s an ongoing effort to tap into untapped markets, providing farmers with a more lucrative cash crop alternative,” he says.

Moreover, factors like drought and climate change are reshaping the agricultural landscape, potentially favouring winter cereals like rye, particularly in regions prone to harsh winters and shorter growing seasons.

“Last year’s drought in the West highlighted rye’s resilience, outperforming spring cereals in challenging conditions. As the climate changes, rye’s role could become even more significant, especially in mitigating the impacts of climate variability,” Piecharka adds.

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