High yielding and palatable, fodder beet has become a valued winter crop option, but good planning and preparation is essential to realise its potential.
Not all beets are created equal, and James White from Seed Force says the targeted end use of the crop is one of the first things to consider when planning a fodder beet crop, as this will determine which type and cultivar to grow.
There are four main types of fodder beets, these are; mangel fodder beets, low to medium drymatter beets, medium to high drymatter beets and sugar beets. Each type is suited to a specific livestock class and farm system.
SF Brigadier is a traditional mangel-type beet with the majority of its bulb above ground. This means farmers benefit from exceptional feed utilisation. SF Brigadier has a high proportion of protein-rich leaf and a low drymatter content, which means it can be fed to any class of stock but is especially suited to young, growing stock.
SF 1505Bv is a high-yielding beet with medium to high drymatter. It also has a high proportion of leaf which maintains its quality well into winter. This cultivar is particularly suited to high-performance dairy systems where yield and leaf are important.
After determining what the crop will be used for, the next step is paddock selection.
Factors such as location, soil type, topography, proximity to water, environmental regulations and accessibility to a run-off all need to be taken into account when selecting a paddock. Feed consistency also needs to be considered, as animals need to be kept on the crop for a reasonable period to benefit from it.
James says the critical factors in growing a successful fodder beet crop are even germination, speed to canopy cover and maintaining that canopy cover.
“Up to two-thirds of the total crop yield will be determined by the activities carried out before seedling emergence, so it is important to follow some key steps to help ensure the best results are achieved.”
Identifying paddocks early allows time for nutrient tests to be carried out and any deficiencies addressed. Aim for soil pH of 6.2.
The chemical history of the paddock should be checked. Ask your Luisetti Seeds agent about which chemicals to be aware of.
Fodder and sugar beet roots can go down 1.5 metres, so check for factors such as soil pans which may restrict root penetration. If pans are present, determine their depth and use a sub-soiler or ripper, after the paddock has been sprayed out, set to a depth of 50mm below the pan.
James recommends carrying out the main cultivation as soon as conditions allow after winter and well before planting. This will allow for soil weathering and a weed flush.
The base fertiliser should be applied after the main cultivation. James urges farmers to be patient and wait for the right conditions before working the paddock to ensure a good, level finish.
After working the paddock, the soil needs to be consolidated within a few days to minimise loss of soil moisture.
Final cultivation can be carried out to create a fine, moist, firm seedbed ready for planting in October or November.
Attention to detail – and good agronomists – have been instrumental to the success of Peter and Maree Kidd’s fodder beet crop.
The couple, who along with their son Ray, farm 290ha of mixed terrain at Kaituna just off the Christchurch to Akaroa Highway, have grown a 30 tonne/ha crop of SF Brigadier under irrigation on 9ha of their flat land and are using it for wintering lambs.
Luisetti Seeds agronomist Kerry Thomas says Peter, Maree and Ray are rapt with the crop “which has looked absolutely fantastic from go to whoa”.
The Kidds have always maintained a very comprehensive and robust fertiliser regime on their mixed-cropping farm and the fodder beet crop was no exception.
Under the guidance of John McCaw from Luisetti Seeds, who helped with crop establishment, they spread 300kg/ha of Ballance Fodder beet mix fertiliser on the paddock before the final working. A further 250kg/ha of Ballance Activa Compound NPK-mix fertiliser was applied at drilling in early October.
The seeds were precision-drilled by contractor Jeremy Simpson at 100,000 seeds/ha.
Pre-emergence, the crop was sprayed with Nortron, Magister, Roundup and Lorsban and this was followed by a post-emergence spray of Betanal quattro, Nortron, Chloronion and insecticide.
Grass weed and thistles were controlled shortly after emergence with Centurion and Versatil Powerflo.
Before canopy closure, the crop received a dressing of 150kg/ha of urea.
Kerry says the fodder beet leaf was kept exceptionally clean with two applications of Escolta Fungicide. These were flown on in mid-January and mid-February by Dougal Monk from Christchurch helicopters.
Due to the size of the bulbs, getting a yield measurement proved to be a logistical nightmare, but it was assessed at 30,000kg DM/ha made up of 11% DM bulbs and 10% DM leaf – which is exceptional for a low drymatter grazing beet.