Fall rye production


Source: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, http://www.agric.gov.ab.ca/


The purpose of this publication is to provide information. It is not intended that you rely upon the material for any other purpose. While every effort has been made to ensure that the information in the publication is correct at the time of its printing, neither the Crown, its agents or employees nor the authors of this publication assume any responsibility or liability whatsoever for any financial loss or damage suffered as a result of the public use of these materials or as a result of any changes in the law after the publication of these materials.


Advantages of growing fall (winter) rye:

  • Grows well on light, sandy, erosion-prone land although it does respond to better land and good fertility. It has good drought tolerance. It is frequently used after potato production to stabilize soils going into the winter.
  • Straw decomposes more slowly than other cereal straw, further contributing to holding soil prone to erosion. Its extensive rooting system also contributes a large amount of organic matter.
  • Fall rye is much less subject to winterkill than winter wheat, although winter damage can still occur, even in southern Alberta.
  • Allows a spread in labor and machinery use since it reduces the spring workload and permits earlier grain harvest.
  • Makes use of late summer, fall and early spring moisture that might be in short supply for spring- sown crops.
  • One planting can be used for spring to fall grazing and early spring pasture, then left for grain harvest that summer. However, heavy grazing in summer and fall can result in winterkill and grain yield reduction with such a system. If the aim is grain yield, graze the rye lightly to prevent winterkill.
  • As fall rye matures early, it may avoid late summer drought and fall frost.
  • Weed control costs are reduced and often eliminated because of fall rye’s excellent ability to compete with weeds as well as an allelopathic (inhibition of plant growth) effect on weed germination from rye residues.
  • Fall rye outyields spring-sown rye by about 35 per cent. Commercial yields of 50 to 60 bushels per acre have been reported under good management. New varieties of hybrid rye are outyielding open pollinated rye by 25 to 30 per cent.
  • Used as a green cover crop for weed control in organic crop production.
  • Useful in breaking the disease cycle in the rotation.
  • Spring-seeded fall rye is used extensively for summer and fall annual pasture.

Disadvantages of growing fall (winter) rye:

  • Even though fall rye is hardier than winter wheat, its winter survival cannot be guaranteed.
  • Fall rye grain has a limited market for feed or whiskey production and market price is usually low.
  • It has a weedy nature. Volunteer fall rye will usually appear for two to three years after a crop has been grown.
  • When heading out in June, fall rye can be susceptible to late spring frost, causing damage to the head and reduced yield. Rye yield can be severely reduced by drought stress at heading time, which occurs quite often in southern Alberta.
  • Seed germination drops rapidly when fall rye is stored longer than a year.
  • Very susceptible to ergot, which is very toxic to man and animal. Rye’s susceptibility to ergot provides a high inoculum level for cereal crops that follow it, which can be expensive to separate out of the grain. The issue with ergot is one of the main limiting factors preventing greater use of rye as a grain crop.


Fall rye is the most productive of the cereal grain crops under conditions of low temperature, low fertility and drought. However, rye does well when fertilized and on practically all soil types. Because of its fall establishment and cold tolerance, it can be used effectively to control wind erosion on light, sandy soils during fall, winter and early spring.

Fall rye is grown for seed mainly in southern Alberta and east central Alberta, but it can be grown more widely than winter wheat because of its greater winter hardiness. Fall rye production in Alberta averaged 37,000 acres between 2010-2014. Yield in this same period averaged 44 bu/ac. This total does not include the acreage of fall rye used for grazing, greenfeed and silage, which would triple the acreage seeded and are the major uses of this crop.

Fall rye can tolerate acid soils better than wheat, barley or canola (Table 1). However, it is not tolerant of saline, wet or poorly drained soils.

Fall rye is used extensively for pasture and forage. In some cases, fall rye is left to produce a grain crop after providing pasture, thereby giving the farmer two crops from one planting. However, too heavy a grazing of fall rye in the fall or spring will severely reduce seed yield. See the section on Fall Rye for Pasture, Hay and Silage, Grazing and Feeding, Agdex 117/20-1 or look at the Alberta Agriculture factsheet Winter Cereals for Pasture.


Quality in grain and oilseed crops is related to the physical and biochemical status of the grain with respect to certain characteristics. These characteristics may be affected to a greater or lesser degree by the variety grown and the environment in which it is grown.

In Canada, the only quality factors applied to rye grain are those in the grading system, specifically test weight, degree of soundness, ergot levels and foreign materials. Quality as it relates to the end use of the rye grain, i.e. breadmaking, livestock feeding and distilling, is virtually undefined. Frequently, falling numbers in Canadian rye (a measure of bread making quality) are too poor for the baking industry. The distilling industry uses the standards of the grading system, and they require #2 C.W. or better.

Pasture, forage and feeding grain to livestock are discussed in subsequent sections of this publication.


The author wishes to express a sincere thank you to Walter Yarish, Tim Ferguson, Ieuan Evans, Mike Dolinski, Doug Penney, J. Thomas, Don Salmon, Bob Nelson, Grant McLeod, Keith Briggs, Dave McAndrew, Myron Bjorge, Bob Wroe, Russel Horvey, Alan Toly, Bob Wolfe, Blair Shaw, Bill Chapman, Wayne Jackson, Larry Welsh, Ellis Treffry, Gordon Hutton, Allan Macaulay, Mike Rudakewich and Lu Piening for their constructive criticism in reviewing and improving this manual.

A special thanks to Arvid Aasen who wrote, with the help of Ken Lopetinsky, Vern Baron, Ellis Treffry and Myron Bjorge, the pasture, the hay and silage section.

Prepared by:
Murray McLelland formerly with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development

Revised by:
Harry Brook, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

Source: Agdex 117/20-1. Revised June 2018.