By Jeri Stroade and Michael Boland, Kansas State University.
Revised by Mykel Taylor, Assistant Professor, Kansas State University. Revised June 2012
Rye (Secale cereale) has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years and was the predominant world bread grain until the 19th century when it was replaced with wheat. The grain appears to have originated in Southwestern Asia, but the precise area is not known. In the first millennium, rye was transferred to northern Europe where it spread to the rest of Europe. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Europeans brought rye to North and South America. From Europe, it continued to spread to Russia and Siberia. Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Australia and South Africa first produced rye in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Rye is an extremely hardy crop. It can survive harsh winters, sandy soils with low fertility and drought conditions. It requires an estimated 30 percent less water than wheat. In some cases, the production of rye offers the only chance of economic returns that the producer may have for marginal land. Winter varieties of rye are much more common than spring varieties. Agronomic characteristics and the end-use quality of winter rye are also better than spring rye.
The United States is a significant producer of rye. The 2011 rye crop totaled more than 6.3 million bushels and was valued at approximately $49 million. The marketing year average price in the U.S. in 2011 was $7.77 per bushel, an increase of just over $2.50 from the previous year..
Much of the U.S. rye production takes place in Georgia and Oklahoma. In 2011, Georgia produced 945,000 bushels of rye and Oklahoma produced 825,000 bushels. Production in both Georgia and Oklahoma was down relative to the previous year. (NASS 2012)
While rye is produced throughout the world, the largest producing areas are currently the European Union-27 (EU-27), Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. According to the Foreign Ag Service (FAS), foreign rye production in 2011, was 12.66 million metric tons (MT). Production in the EU-27 countries was 6.9 million MT, equivalent to over 253 million bushels. Production also increased in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.
Rye can be grazed while standing in the field or harvested and fed to livestock. While the feed value of rye is lower than other crops, recent technological improvements in feed production have allowed a greater proportion of rye to be used in livestock feed. Experts from the DLG, a German agriculture society, researched the feasibility of adding rye to livestock and poultry feed, concluding that the grain could be economically added to cattle, pig and sheep feed but not to chicken or turkey feed. Rye is also used as livestock bedding.
Rye flour is used in breads and other baked goods. However, rye dough does not have the elasticity and gas-retention properties that wheat has; therefore, wheat is preferred to rye in high-volume bread production.
Rye is also used in alcohol distilling. An Iowa distillery creates an alcoholic beverage called Templeton Rye from the grain. Rye straw has several uses including livestock bedding, cellulosic ethanol and the manufacturing of lightweight composite board for use in flat pack furniture.
Exports and Imports
The global rye trade has nearly vanished. The United States exported rye valued at nearly $3.3 million in 2011, up significantly from $2 million in 2010. Over 70 percent of U.S.-grown rye was shipped to South Korea, while the volume of rye exports to Japan increased 47 percent to $636,000. (FAS 2012)
The United States imports more rye than it exports. The value of the rye entering the United States in 2011 increased 86 percent from 2010 to nearly $39 million. Canada supplied 76 percent of the imported rye. Denmark and Germany accounted for the majority of the remaining imports. (FAS 2012)
Crop Production Summary, National Ag Statistical Service (NASS), USDA.
Crop Values Annual Summary, NASS, USDA.
Small Grains Annual Summary, NASS, USDA.
Written August 2003 and updated June 2012. Links checked November 2013.