10 best practices when growing and feeding fodder beet

With the growing population of cattle and cow numbers across Ireland, many farmers are turning to growing or feeding fodder beet.

Fodder beet is a high-energy feed with the potential to deliver results for both the grower and the consumer. Beet is one of the highest-energy sources per kilogram of dry matter (DM) of all the forage crops and over 10,000ac are grown in Ireland each year.

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10 best practices when growing or feeding beet

1. Rotation

Beet should only be grown after two years have elapsed since a beet, brassica or oil seed rape crop was grown. Scutch, thistles and potatoes can be an issue based on the previous rotation.

2. Sowing period

Fodder beet can be sown from early April. Beet is a sensitive crop and will not thrive in harsh conditions. Delays after mid-April will reduce yields by about 4% per week. Latest sowing time is late May.

3. Seeding rates

Seeds are precision drilled. Aim to establish 30,000 plants per acre. Average field emergence for fodder beet is about 65% (range 55% to 80%).

With 56cm (22in) row widths and 18cm (7in) spacing, 40,700 seeds are planted per acre; assuming 74% establishment, this gives 30,000 plants per acre. It’s advisable to sow at a depth of 3.2cm.

Most drills were designed to be driven at 3mph, so watch your forward speed to ensure even depth and seed rate.

4. Lime and fertiliser

Target pH of 7 and, ideally, lime should be applied one year ahead of growing a beet crop. Farm yard manure (FYM) can be applied at heavy rates and should be calculated in fertiliser applications.

Fertiliser recommendations are shown in the following table:

Beet crops need boron. Choose a compound fertiliser with boron and apply before sowing and mix into soil. A nitrogen top dressing can be applied at the four-to-eight leaf stage. Click here to watch more beet videos

5. Weed control

Poor weed control is the most common cause of crop failure. The aim is to keep the crop weed free until at least eight weeks after emergence.

One tall weed above the canopy in a metre square (m²) has the capacity to reduce yield by 10%. T1 timing is generally at 18-21 days with T2 at 10-14 days post T1.

6. Soil borne pests and diseases

Currently there are two seed treatments available to control soil borne pests. These are Force Magna and Cruiser Force.

Force Magna (Thiamethoxam 15g and Tefluthrin 6g)  is a soil-acting pyrethroid insecticide which reduces the damage caused by a range of pests that include: springtails; symphlids; millipedes; and pygmy beetle. This will give protection for up to 35 days.

Cruiser Force (Thiamethoxam 60g and Tefluthrin 8g) has the added advantage of controlling aphids which in turn gives improved virus control in crops. Cruiser has a persistence activity of up to 70 days, but is more expensive. Contact your local agronomist for best options.

Ramularia leaf spot and rust are the main problems and usually occur in the autumn. They can result in severe defoliation, which will increase harvesting losses with belt-lifting harvesters.

Crops to be harvested after November 1 should be treated with a fungicide in late July or early August.

7. Costs of crop establishment

Teagasc summary of crop establishment costs

8. Variety choice

Fodder beet varieties are generally classified by their dry matter content and root colour. Traditionally in Ireland the demand is for a white beet with high DM (dry matter) content such as Magnum.

Choose varieties that are proven, with high DM score, high leaf score and low dirt levels.

9. Feeding beet

Beet is low in protein and minerals, so it needs to be balanced. The sugar content of beet will drive intakes and improve performance.

Ideally beet should be washed if dirty and chopped to avoid choking. Beet should be introduced gradually with feeding rates increased to 10-15kg/head/day. A nutritionist will be best placed to plan diets.

Typical analysis:
  • Dry matter yield: 13-20t/ha;
  • Fresh yield: 70-110t/ha;
  • Dry matter: 18-20%:
  • Metabolisable energy (ME) as MJ/kg of dry matter: 13.5.

10. Storage

Beet can be stored outdoors in clamps but be wary of frost. For long-term storage, beet can be ensiled with with maize or pulp nuts at a rate of 5:1. This is an ideal high-energy feed for buffer feeding in spring time or intensive cattle finishing.

Success stories

Brian Kirk, a farmer from Co. Louth, said: “We swapped to Magnum because of the leaf cover and the high dry matter. Magnum yields over 30t.”

Another Co. Louth farmer Patrick Byrne said: “Green energy is the way forward. Magnum is suitable for AD plants. For dairy production it’s unreal, cow go up in their milk.”

Meanwhile, Gerry Giggins – a nutritionist – said: “If cattle had pocket money, it would be beet they’d buy. Feeding fodder beet increases DM intakes and increases cattle performance.”

The agricultural manager at Flynns of Lackagh, Co. Galway, Ronan Carr, said: “Magnum is a popular variety because of its high dry matter content and proven results.”

More information

For more information on Magnum fodder beet and other varieties contact Interchem at: 01-4518959 or visit the company’s website. Click here to watch more beet videos