Fall rye’s popularity catching on Prairies

fall rye
Fall rye flowering in south-central Manitoba. (Allan Dawson photo)

CNS Canada — It’s good and bad news when it comes to winter cereal acreage in Western Canada. Winter wheat acres in Manitoba and Saskatchewan are down this fall, while acreage in Alberta increased, and fall rye acres in all provinces rose.

“I think a lot of the guys that were growing winter wheat have moved over to growing the new hybrid rye and the rye acres are up quite a bit,” said Ken Gross, manager for agricultural programs at Ducks Unlimited at Brandon, Man.

Statistics Canada’s latest Production of Principal Fields Crops report, released Thursday, showed that in Manitoba, winter wheat acres fell to 45,400 acres from 70,000 last year and fall rye acres rose to 95,300 acres from 55,000.

Saskatchewan winter wheat dropped to 110,000 acres from 170,000 last year, while fall rye increased to 111,700 acres from 70,000. In Alberta, winter wheat acres rose to 100,000 acres from 95,000, and fall rye increased to 65,200 acres from 38,000.

In Manitoba, Gross wasn’t surprised to see the drop in winter wheat acreage. With the wet, cold fall it was hard to get into the fields to seed at times.

He also heard of increased interest from producers in newer hybrid rye varieties which are hardier and can hold up better than winter wheat throughout winter.

“I think there were a lot of producers, especially in the southwest corner of the province, that were looking to grow winter wheat but it was not a good fall for getting it into the ground,” he said.

“It’s usually a last minute decision and when conditions are tough, (it) ends up that they just can’t get it in the ground.”

Gross expects winter wheat that did get seeded in Manitoba should be doing well so far. Due to the wet fall the soil moisture content was better than last year’s, which made for better seeding conditions for winter cereals.

“As long as the winter progresses like it is, I don’t think we should have any concerns going into the spring with the current crop,” he said.

In Alberta, Monica Klaas, a contract agronomist for Ducks Unlimited’s Western Winter Wheat Initiative, was surprised to see the winter cereal acreage increases.

However, she suspects the challenging fall Alberta faced with a delayed harvest, where spring wheat crops were left out in the fields longer, could have played into the rise. Winter wheat varieties were harvested earlier and didn’t face the same quality issues as their spring-seeded counterparts.

Klaas has also heard offhand that some grain buyers have been blending winter wheat with downgraded-quality spring wheat. She also expects the increase is just due to winter wheat popping up in farmers’ rotations this year.

In Alberta, winter cereal acres are also off to a good start due to fall moisture. While Klaas has seen mostly good stand establishment, there is some concern in parts of the province as the cold and snowy weather in October wasn’t good for crops.

“The plants aren’t quite as large as I have seen in the past. But we still have that couple leaf stage and some good roots under them, so I’m very positive about the conditions,” she said.

Both Klaas and Gross are happy to see the increase in fall rye acreage. While the Ducks Unlimited program mostly focuses on winter wheat, Gross has done some work with fall rye in the past and would be interested in doing more as it increases in popularity.

“Overall (the fall rye increase is) good news for waterfowl. They find the nesting opportunities in fall rye similar to winter wheat, so that’s at least some good news for us,” he said.

While the hybrid rye variety is catching on in popularity with farmers, rye prices throughout the summer could also factor into the acreage increase.

Last year rye prices in Western Canada were sitting at around $4 per bushel; this year prices have hit as high as $8. New-crop pricing currently has bids sitting in the $5.50-$6 per bushel range.

— Ashley Robinson writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Glacier FarmMedia company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting. Includes files from Glen Hallick of CNS Canada.

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