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Rye (Secale cereale) is a grass grown extensively as a grain, a cover crop and as a forage crop. It is a member of the wheat tribe (Triticeae) and is closely related to barley (Hordeum) and wheat (Triticum). Rye grain is used for flour, rye bread, rye beer, crisp bread, some whiskeys, some vodkas, and animal fodder. It can also be eaten whole, either as boiled rye berries, or by being rolled, similar to rolled oats.
Rye is a cereal grain and should not be confused with ryegrass, which is used for lawns, pasture, and hay for livestock.
Since the Middle Ages people have cultivated rye widely in Central and Eastern Europe. It serves as the main bread cereal in most areas east of the French-German border and north of Hungary. In Southern Europe, it was cultivated on marginal lands.
Claims of much earlier cultivation of rye, at the Epipalaeolithic site of Tell Abu Hureyra in the Euphrates valley of northern Syria remain controversial. Critics point to inconsistencies in the radiocarbon dates, and identifications based solely on grain, rather than on chaff.
Winter rye is any breed of rye planted in the fall to provide ground cover for the winter. It actually grows during any warmer days of the winter, when sunlight temporarily warms the plant above freezing, even while there is general snow cover. It can be used to prevent the growth of winter-hardy weeds, and can either be harvested as a bonus crop, or tilled directly into the ground in spring to provide more organic matter for the next summer's crop. It is sometimes used in winter gardens, and is a common nurse crop.
The flame moth, rustic shoulder-knot and turnip moth are among the species of Lepidoptera whose larvae feed on rye.
PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION STATISTICS
Rye is grown primarily in Eastern, Central and Northern Europe. The main rye belt stretches from northern Germany through Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia into central and northern Russia. Rye is also grown in North America (Canada and the USA), in South America (Argentina, Brazil), in Turkey, in Kazakhstan and in northern China.
Production levels of rye have fallen in most of the producing nations, as of 2012. For instance, production of rye in Russia fell from 13.9 million metric tons (Mt) in 1992 to 2.1 Mt in 2012. Corresponding figures for other countries are as follows: Poland – falling from 5.9 Mt in 1992 to 2.9 Mt in 2005; Germany – 3.3 Mt to 3.9 Mt; Belarus – 3.1 Mt to 1.1 Mt; China – 1.7 Mt to 0.7 Mt. Most rye is consumed locally or exported only to neighbouring countries, rather than being shipped worldwide.
Rye is highly susceptible to the ergot fungus. Consumption of ergot-infected rye by humans and animals results in a serious medical condition known as ergotism. Ergotism can cause both physical and mental harm, including convulsions, miscarriage, necrosis of digits, hallucinations and death. Historically, damp northern countries that have depended on rye as a staple crop were subject to periodic epidemics of this condition. There have been "occurrence[s] of ergotism with periods where there were high incidents of people persecuted for being witches. Emphasis was placed on the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts in 1692, where there was a sudden rise in the number of people accused of being witches, but earlier examples were taken from Europe, as well."
Rye is used to make alcoholic drinks, like rye whiskey and rye beer. Other uses of rye include kvass and an alternative medicine known as rye extract. Rye straw is used to make corn dollies.
Rye grows well in much poorer soils than those necessary for most cereal grains. Thus, it is an especially valuable crop in regions where the soil has sand or peat. Rye plants withstand cold better than other small grains do. Rye will survive with snow cover that would otherwise result in winter-kill for winter wheat. Most farmers grow winter ryes, which are planted and begin to grow in autumn. In spring, the plants develop and produce their crop.
Fall-planted rye shows fast growth. By the summer solstice, plants reach their maximum height of about a 120 cm (4 ft) while spring-planted wheat has only recently germinated. Vigorous growth suppresses even the most noxious weed competitors and rye can be grown without application of herbicides.
Rye is a common, unwanted invader of winter wheat fields. If allowed to grow and mature, it may cause substantially reduced prices (docking) for harvested wheat.
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