For most wheat growers, a field of rye is an unwelcome sight that piles on the dockage and spreads from one quarter to the next. However for Tyrone Wilson, a field of rye is about the prettiest picture imaginable.

His business, JLee Co., a feed and seed company, is located in Hennessey, Oklahoma, and is co-owned by Wilson, his wife, Lori, and another partner, Chris Jones. They purchased the business in 2017 after it had been a successful company for years.

JLee Co. buys two main crops: rye and mung beans. Rye is not commonly taken at cooperative elevators since it is not a commodity crop, so farmers bring their harvested rye seed to businesses like JLee Co.

“This year we will be buying rye at 14 cents a pound,” Wilson said. “The market is going to be interesting this year because there is a lot of rye planted. There are over 7,000 acres growing around this area right now.”

Wilson predicts JLee Co. will take in three times the amount of rye it did last year. 

Why rye?

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Tyrone Wilson, co-owner of JLee Co., in Hennessey, Oklahoma, grew up on a farm and decided to go into business for himself in 2017 when he purchased the existing business. (Journal photo by Lacey Newlin.)

In a state like Oklahoma, chock-full of wheat, one must wonder why rye is being planted.

“It is growing more in the Midwest, to be used as a rotational cover crop in the winter behind corn and soybeans,” said Josh Anderson, Noble Research Center research associate. “A small group of people in Oklahoma have grown rye over the years because of its adaptability to certain conditions including sandy soil conditions or more marginal soils that may not be as fertile.”

Rye does really well under stressful planting conditions and is reliable. It is also a really early pasture to get cattle on it quicker than other cereal grains. Also doesn’t require an established seedbed. One of the highest quality forage grasses and there is a perennial ryegrass that makes for a lot less labor for cattlemen.

Wilson says producers are also drawn to the set prices and knowing they drive the rates.

“The farmers have more ownership in helping drive the price of rye as compared to wheat,” Wilson said.

One negative attribute Anderson pointed out is that since rye is not a commodity crop, it is not covered under insurance, adding more risk and uncertainty to a producer’s operation.

According to Anderson, rye production and planting has been rising in Oklahoma and other states. Wilson says rye has been planted in the Great Bend, Kansas, area and he fully expects it to expand in territory.

Anyone who grows wheat would have no difficultly growing rye. Wilson says they have almost identical germination and harvest times. He says the elevators hope for a moisture content of 12 or lower.

“Rye has the stability and the germination history behind it to be really successful for these farmers,” Wilson said.

The next time you bite into a sandwich on rye bread or throw back a shot of rye whiskey, remember the rye we all despise in the wheat pasture is a valuable crop when purposely planted. It will continue to play a role in forage and grain harvest in the Southern Plains.

Lacey Newlin can be reached at lnewlin@hpj.com.

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