The World Supply of Fall (Winter) Rye
Author: T. Allen
Agricultural Economics, University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, S7N 5A8
Rye is a cereal grain which is primarily grown in Continental Europe and to a lesser degree North America. Outside these regions, rye has limited production or consumption. In this section the major areas of rye production will be discussed.
Rye (Secale cereale L.) originated in southwestern Asia, but it is essentially a crop of Northern Europe. Rye was the cereal basis for the dark breads and breadstuff which was the food of the masses of Europe for centuries. Even though it was a staple food, rye bread was considered peasant food, inferior to white wheat bread. Wheat is the most popular bread cereal now used in Europe, but wheat bread was not a common food until the 18th century, and even then it was a luxury food routinely consumed only by the wealthy. Rye was still widely used, even when wheat bread became the preferred breadstuff, as rye was a more dependable crop. Rye is a hardy crop which is more frost and drought resistant than wheat, so the two grains were often sown together producing a mixture called maslin. Growing the two crops together provided some risk reduction because if the wheat crop did not survive the winter, the rye crop would still provide some sustenance.
Although wheat has become the favoured cereal of much of Europe, countries such as Germany, Poland, and Russia still produce and consume significant quantities of rye as bread and feed grain. Rye has always been an important crop in Germany and when the EC (European Community) tackled the question of a Common Agriculture Program (CAP) in 1964, the target price for rye was fixed relatively close to the wheat price as a concession to Germany. As a special concession to Germany, a bonus was added to the price of rye used for human consumption. Although this higher target price for rye was reduced in 1982/83 when rye became subject to an intervention price common to all feed grains, large intervention stocks still accumulated.
If rye could be identified with one country, that country would be Russia. Since the middle ages ryebread has been a traditional foodstuff of not only Russia, but also many of the other republics of the Former Soviet Union (FSU). Although the FSU still produces and consumes more rye than the rest of the world combined (Table 1), rye acreage has declined through the 20th century from 70 million acres in 1913 to a low of 16 million acres in 1979. This is in contrast to prerevolutionary times when the winter rye acreage was always larger then the spring wheat acreage.
A major reason for the decline in rye acreage in the Soviet Union appears to be the lack of dwarf rye varieties. The Soviet peasant had few problems harvesting the tall rye crops when using hand sickles, but serious problems arose when modern harvesting equipment came into use. Long rye straw could not easily be handled by the Soviet combines and while short strawed wheat varieties have been developed that are better suited to mechanical harvesting, short strawed rye varieties were not available to the Soviet farmers.
Soviet rye production declined so much that by 1980 the U.S.S.R. was importing 500,000 tonnes of rye, mostly from Canada. This situation was loudly protested by Soviet agricultural experts who argued strongly that a decline in rye production would hurt the Soviet economy. They argued that rye is a much more secure and economical crop for vast areas of Soviet land, especially the more northerly regions. Possibly because of this protest, production dramatically increased during the 1980's, from a low of 7.3 million tonnes in 1979 to a production of 14.4 million tonnes in 1993 (United States Department of Agriculture, PS&D View, 1993).
USDA - PS&D database