Winter rye (Secale cereale L.), also known as cereal rye, is the most winter hardy and drought tolerant of all small grains.
Winter rye performs best in sandy loam, well-drained soils compared to fine textured soils with poor internal drainage. Soil pH for optimum growth ranges from 5.6 to 7 but rye can tolerate pH as low as 4.5 and as high as 8. Expect winter rye to be more productive than other small grains on infertile, sandy soils. Winter rye will continue to grow until late fall, overwinter, and resume growth quickly in the early spring. The aforementioned attributes explains the popularity of winter rye as a cover crop/green manure in both organic and conventional production systems. Other primary uses of winter rye are pasture/forage and grain crop. Hybrid winter rye varieties that are commercially available yield 30% to 40% more compared to the best performing open-pollinated varieties.
Cereal rye’s yield potential is reduced when encountering unusually cold and late springs. This yield reduction is the result of a shorter period of vegetative growth and the inability of the crop to take up sufficient nitrogen to maximize grain yield as it is applied too late for the crop to take advantage of it.