Trials confirm hybrid rye as leading wholecrop feedstock for biogas

For the second year running specialist hybrid rye varieties bred specifically for whole-cropping have produced dry matter yields above 18t/ha.

With the crop also out-performing other wholecrop cereals on farm in field-scale comparisons, it is fast becoming the number one partner to maize in the biogas plant feedstock clamp.

The trials conducted by leading energy crop breeder, KWS UK, confirm that the best varieties can deliver 35-40% more DM than wholecrop winter wheat and is probably worth an extra £685/ha.

Harvested in early July, at sites in Dorset and Cambridge, the two market-leading hybrid ryes, KWS Magnifico and KWS Progas produced mean yields of up to 17.8 and 18.25t/ha respectively.

In comparison, winter wheat KWS Santiago, yielded 12.9t/ha DM, 5t/ha behind the two specialist rye varieties sown at the most effective seed rates investigated in the trials.

According to the company’s energy crop specialist, Simon Witheford, this year’s figures compare favourably with those from KWS UK’s product development site at Cambridge in 2013.

Last season, hybrid rye produced DM yields of 17-18t/ha – producing around 10-20% more crop than triticale and 5t/ha more than a less vigorous grain rye variety.

“As a result, this is the third year running that hybrid rye – most notably KWS Magnifico and newcomer KWS Progas – have shown they can produce some of the highest DM yields when ensiled.

“With the crop harvested in July, hybrid rye is also proving to be an ideal entry for oilseed rape and giving growers an opportunity to cut blackgrass populations down to size,” he says.

Further data from this year’s Cambs trials, point to a 2.25t/ha loss in DM yield for a crop where drilling is delayed by a month to Nov 15th and that those drilling in mid-October compared to mid-late September, should increase seed rates from 200 to 220-240seeds sq m.

“If you are concerned about establishment, then increasing the seed rate by 10-20% will bring improved yields which has been demonstrated over the past two years of trials,” says Mr Witheford.

UK wide, KWS points out that little lodging has been seen in commercial crops and that a 2-3 spray PGR programme is more than capable of keeping hybrid rye upright. However, 2014 did bring significant brown rust issues in at risk regions such as the south and east of England.

“A relatively inexpensive three spray fungicide programme worked well, but it is important to get in to the crop early using a protectant product as hybrid rye is fast growing and brown rust can soon gain a foothold.”

Growers looking for varieties for planting this autumn should look no further than Magnifico or Progas, says Simon. “Magnifico has been very consistent over three years and is easy to manage; it is definitely one for the first time rye grower.

“Last year’s newcomer, Progas is slightly taller and, while it is higher yielding will take more managing, so is probably best partnered with Magnifico.”

Looking further forward, KWS’ pipeline includes the coded varieties H134 and H135, both of which were in the 2014 trials. H135 in particular looks set to suit UK conditions and produce yields on a par if not better than Progas. “We’ll be looking at it again in next year’s work,” says Mr Witheford.

As well as investing in a wholecrop trials harvester and near infra-red spectrometry to produce immediate results in trials, KWS is working with a number of partners to improve advice on the crop.

“In 2014 we will be looking at optimum N-response and PGR use as well as seed rates and yield and will use the data to ensure our customers have the best available knowledge for the crop.”

“We’ve found that hybrid rye is much more vigorous than other varieties and has a high tillering capacity: This is where its yield is coming from.

“Other key points are that the earlier you sow, the less herbicide is needed. However, the compromise is that the earlier you sow, the greater the risk of brown rust – so perhaps a pre-emptive fungicide strike is advisable.

“A lot of farmers also see hybrid rye as a silver bullet to control blackgrass and in our experience – and those of those agronomy partners we are working with – it will certainly help keep the population down.

“First off it smothers the weed, then, if you can cut the rye and remove the blackgrass head before it has set seed, you can effectively cut levels of the weed in future crops (see photo). In other cereals grown for wholecrop, the later maturity means this is not possible without compromising DM yield.”

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