2019 On-farm Rye Forage Comparison: KWS Progas Hybrid Forage Rye vs. VNS Rye

Meffert’s Homestead Dairy, Waunakee, WI

By: Kevin Shelley, UW NPM Program – 608-575-4746

Many Wisconsin farmers are following corn silage harvest with a winter cereal grain, such as rye or triticale, planted for a fall-to-spring cover crop intended to prevent soil erosion and nutrient loss from runoff or leaching. The fall-planted cover crop, with proper management, can also be harvested as a forage crop in mid-to-late May, leaving enough time for a full-season crop to follow. The “double cropped” cereal grain forage, if harvested timely at the ‘boot’ to ‘early heading’ stage of growth, can provide a forage option desirable for feeding to dairy heifers and, often, for a portion of the lactating cow ration.  One challenge to the economics of this practice, however, is the relatively low forage yield (1-2 tons dry matter (TDM) per-acre) when harvested at this fairly early growth stage.  This makes for a relatively high feed cost per-TDM when considering seed, planting, and harvesting costs.

Jeff and Luke Meffert, of Meffert’s Homestead Dairy, in the Yahara watershed near Waunakee, WI, like what fall-planted rye helps them accomplish by way of soil conservation and nutrient management.  They and their dairy nutritionist, Mike Limmex (Furst-McNess Company), also value it as an additional source of forage for both cows and heifers.  Jeff and Luke recognize, however, the yield challenge, especially in years when fall and/or spring conditions lead to lower yields.  Interested to find something better, the Mefferts took an interest in a new hybrid forage rye commercially available from KWS Cereals of Einbeck, Germany and Champaign, Illinois.  Most winter cereal ryes typically grown as a cover or forage crop are open-pollinated ryes and have been developed for grain production.

Last year, the Mefferts were able to secure a donation from KWS of Pro-gas hybrid forage rye seed for a five-acre demonstration on their farm.  On September 30, 2018, a 20-acre field where corn silage had been harvested was planted with a five-acre section of Progas rye, surrounded by a conventional, non-varietal (VNS) brand rye.  This trial design allowed for two side-by side comparisons of the hybrid and VNS ryes. Average results and observations are presented below:

Manure application: 8,000 gallons per-acre liquid dairy, 9-10-18

Planting date and method: 9-23-18, No-till

Seeding rate: VNS rye = 100 lbs per-acre (cost = $18/ac.)

Hybrid rye = 44 lbs per-acre (normal retail cost = $50/ac)

The hybrid rye is characterized to have very heavy tillering, and thus, a lower required seeding rate.

Cutting date: 5-22-19

Growth stage: Conventional rye = Late boot to early heading.  Height = 23”-26”

Progas hybrid rye = Pre-boot, heads about 2” below top of stem. Height = 24”-28”

Chopping date: 5-26-19

There was one 3” rain between cutting and chopping.

2019 comparison averages




Yield (TDM/ac)


Crude Protein

% DM








(48 hour)

















Conventional VNS ryelage 1.2 8.5 61 61 57 111 2495 3073 2.4
Progas hybrid ryelage 1.6 7.9 61 60 57 112 2550 3948 2.2


At cutting, the hybrid rye appeared slightly darker green in color and slightly taller. Although the VNS rye was at, or slightly passed, the desired boot stage, the Progas hybrid rye was still a few days from boot.  Thus, assumedly, more forage biomass would have accumulated by boot stage with the Progas. However, both the calendar (planting date goal for the subsequent corn crop) and the weather forecast influenced the decision to cut the rye at this time.

Although the hybrid rye did exhibit heavy tillering, most occured in the spring.  Over-winter soil cover was much higher for the conventional VNS rye, causing some concern that the hybrid rye would be less effective in achieving the associated soil conservation and water quality protection goals. For this reason, as well as the apparent later maturity associated with the Progas, Jeff and Luke believe their normal program of planting non-hybrid, VNS rye is probably better adapted to optimizing the economic and conservation goals they have for their farm.  They will continue with that in 2019, and continue seeking new options for the future.

Natalie Endres2019 On-farm Rye Forage Comparison: KWS Progas Hybrid Forage Rye vs. VNS Rye