Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Rye (Secale cereale L.) is one of the small grains grown in the Great Plains. It is a winter annual, planted in the fall, and is the hardiest of the small grains. Rye does well in cool climates (optimum temperature 55ºF to 65ºF) and tolerates most adverse weather. It is often grown on light, sandy soil, when weed problems are present or when the soil is low in fertility. The major disease problem is ergot, a fungus that replaces kernels with a hard, black growth. Rye grain is similar to wheat in size and composition but is lower in protein. Bread made from only rye is a small, dark, compact loaf, so in North America it is generally blended with wheat to produce a loaf that is more acceptable to the consumer.

Due to its hardiness, winter rye is commonly grown in the northern parts of the Great Plains. Rye was never the dominant crop, and acreage of rye has declined over the course of the twentieth century. In Saskatchewan, for example, the leading rye-producing province in Canada, acreage fell from 1.2 million in 1921 to 225,000 in 1993. In Saskatchewan, North Dakota, and South Dakota (generally the leading rye producer in the United States), the crop is grown for its grain.

In general, acreage and production decreases southward down the Great Plains. In 1992, South Dakota had 55,000 acres under rye, Nebraska 17,384 acres, and Kansas 6,993. In Oklahoma and Texas, rye is planted for two purposes. First, it provides ground cover during the winter and reduces erosion and loss of nutrients by leaching. Second, rye provides considerable winter grazing for cattle. Very little of this rye is harvested for grain.

Dale Reevers South Dakota State University

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