Income Progress

Yield development contrary to progress in breeding ?

Elimination of a paradox

Everyone is talking about stagnating yields. Still, the breeders see progress in yield development. In the following article you can read why and why the development in hybrid rye is so special.

Yield development in practice

A first step for assessing the situation is to evaluate the yield development in practice. In Germany, the amount of yield achieved in practice is yearly recorded and published by the Federal Statistical Office. It is important to know that the data collected do not show the clear difference in yield between conventional and hybrid rye. We estimate the present proportion of hybrid rye in the rye cultivation areas to be approximately 60 %. The yield development shown derives from this proportion only.

Development of rye yield in practice from 1990 to 2010 in Germany (destatis 2011)

Considering the average rye yields for Germany over the past twenty years, the yields have varied between 40 and 60.2 quintals/ha. In the last decade of the 20th century the yield increased on average. Since 2000 the yield has considerably varied from year to year. On average, the yield even decreased, which was caused by three extreme drought years in 2003, 2007 and 2010.

Progress in hybrid rye breeding

Development of breeding progress in hybrid rye

Phase 1 + 2 = Hybrid rye compared with the control variety Halo in Germany, Recommended List Trials 1987 - 2003, extract (Federal Plant Variety Office),
Phase 3 = trend based on internal and official trial results (controlled by KWS LOCHOW)

Progress in breeding of hybrid rye varieties can best be seen from the German Recommended List Trials data. In illustration 2, the increase in yield of the best three hybrid rye varieties in the mean compared with the conventional variety Halo is shown. The development took place in three stages. In the first phase from 1987 to 1995, the first hybrids from the University of Hohenheim were listed and hybrids with enhanced yields were developed by KWS Getreide. In the second phase from 1996 to 2003, we heavily invested in reducing the risk of ergot, which caused the progress in yield to decrease. In the third phase from 2003 until today, the first hybrids with POLLENPLUS® technology were established. With the seed of such varieties the farmer can buy a very effective protection against ergot infection. Presently, the breeding focus is again aimed at yield and resistance. In future, a progress in yield of more than approximately 1.5 % per annum is expected. The increase in yield shown in illustration 2 is exclusively genetically conditioned, since influences based on the agricultural year, location or other environmental conditions have been mathematically eliminated via the control variety Halo. The breeding progress in conventional rye, in contrast, stayed approximately on the same level as in the past. Even in the future, no considerable increase in yield is expected for this variety type.

A substantial reason for the difference in progress in breeding between conventional and hybrid rye is the impact of heterosis, from which the hybrid breeding is strongly profiting. Accordingly, the divergent parental gene pools and traits are optimally used and the traits desired can be selectively combined, thus enabling an increase in yield. Due to their broad genetic spectrum, hybrid rye varieties adapt very well. This allows for utilizing favourable environmental conditions and also buffering unfavourable ones.

Over the years heavy investments have been made in hybrid rye breeding, which additionally accelerate the great progress made in breeding with the system described. In contrast, royalty income from conventional rye varieties is clearly lower forcing the breeders to limit their investments in this type of variety.

Why is there progress in breeding, but is not reflected in the yield?
In Germany, conventional rye is grown on approximately 40% of the rye cultivation areas. Consequently, participation in the likely progress in breeding is decreasing, because this process is very limited. In this sense the abstaining from hybrid rye cultivation seems not to be useful, because higher yields cannot be achieved.

In general, only marginal increases in yield could be realised in practice. Over the past 5 years many changes have occurred in the cultivation process due to falling market prices. The following factors influence this situation decisively: less application of fertilisers and pesticides, increasing minimum soil treatment and closer crop rotations. The example Brandenburg in illustration 3 clearly shows that more and more areas are less and less supplied with micronutrients. Accordingly, the areas are ever more extensively cultivated which finally results in decreasing yields.

Development of nutrient supply in Brandenburg as an example based on „Complex Plant Analyses“ – This graph is based on test results from Agroplant GmbH, evaluated and statistically analysed by the Association for Supporting an Environmentally Friendly Fertilisation (VFuD 2011)

The fluctuating producer revenues have also caused the rye cultivation areas to decline from formerly 930 000 ha to now approximately 600 000 ha. Furthermore, this decline came at the expense of better locations for lighter locations.

In Germany, extreme weather conditions have increasingly occurred over the past years, which are reflected in more and more spring droughts. Generally, these occurrences apply to all cereal species, but the light locations, on which rye is mainly grown, have been particularly affected.

Taking all these facts into account would mean that the rye yields should even be less. However, thanks to the above mentioned progress in breeding, this negative trend was prevented and the yield level on light soils was even increased. Considering that all signals, even worldwide, indicate a long-term increase in the demand for cereals, the prospects for hybrid rye varieties are good.


All crop species reach their limits on light soils with less nutrients and extreme weather conditions. Particularly on these locations rye has an advantage compared with other cereal species. Rye is especially characterised by its vigorous qualities under very low temperatures, the better exploitation ability of winter moisture compared with spring varieties, the high water use efficiency based on a well-developed root system and the high amount of grains per ear.
Even in the future rye will continue to be the cereal crop of choice for light and medium locations. Basically, the seed is the basis for an optimal harvest. With the superior genetics characterising the hybrid rye varieties from KWS you will profit from progress in breeding even in the future.

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