Rye: A Nordic Specialty

Rye is a cereal with modest requirements regarding soil, fertilization and climate. The main cultivation area of rye is the north-western part of the Eastern Hemisphere. During the latest decade new rye varieties with better resistance and quality have been developed.

Rye (Secale cereale) is a special cereal grown almost exclusively in the north-western part of the Eastern Hemisphere. Nearly 95% of the global production takes place in the northern part of the area between the Ural Mountains and the Nordic Sea.

Rye has been considered to be a primitive crop with low yield, long and weak straw, and problematic behaviour regarding sprouting in the ear. The positive features in cultivation practices include low requirements regarding soil and fertilization, as well as a relatively good overwintering ability. Therefore rye has gained popularity especially in areas with relatively poor soils such as the wide sandy ridges in Poland and some areas in Germany (Salovaara and Autio 2001).

The use of rye is mainly based on local traditional nutritional practices. Traditional rye bread is the dark sour bread known in Finland, the Baltics, Poland, Belarus and the Russian Federation. This tradition has somewhat changed the more westward one goes, for instance to Sweden, Denmark and Germany. There has been a steady decrease in the global total production of rye. The production has diminished even in the areas with long traditions in the use of dark bread.

The greatest rye producer used to be the former Soviet Union. Now this has been split in two main parts: the Russian Federation 3-4 million tonnes and Belarus about 1-2 million tonnes. Poland, which produces about 3 million tonnes, and Germany, with 2 million tonnes in year 2003, were the largest producers (FAOSTAT 2006).

The Nordic countries are relatively small rye producers, and the yearly production fluctuates depending on weather conditions at the time of sowing and, to some extent, on overwintering conditions.

The harvest of rye in Sweden has developed well in the last 20 years, with a good quality product for soft rye bread and rye crisp bread. Due to successful breeding Sweden is self-sufficient in rye, and in some good years, a surplus is also exported to other Nordic countries.

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