“Yields are typically between 70 and 80 tonnes per hectare – and with new genetics can be up to 100 tonnes per hectare – with MEs typically between 13 and 13.5 megajoules per kilogramme of dry matter in good varieties,” says the company’s forage crops manager John Spence.
“This level of energy competes with maize,” he adds. “That gives an idea of the sort of feed value it adds to dairy rations.”
The crop offers a lot more though in terms of feeding systems, storage and, from trials, its high reliability and consistency.
“We’re not suggesting fodder beet replaces a mainstay silage crop,” adds Mr Spence. “But it can support these silages, either in a mixed ration or grazed in situ, and it promotes production from home-grown forages, helping to replace more expensive bought-in concentrates.”
Fodder beet is a unique crop in many ways. It can be lifted and stored in a clamp, then used through winter, stored in the ground and lifted as required, or grazed in situ.
If the latter, round baled grass silage or hay can be placed at the ends of grazing strips to provide a field-based ration. “Rations need to be balanced to make sure there’s not too much energy in the diet, and there’s the necessary fibre.”
For the past five years Limagrain has been exporting fodder beet seed to New Zealand dairy farmers for grazing dairy cattle – both milkers and young stock. “It’s taken off among their milk producers,” says Mr Spence. “They use the same varieties as we grow here and, as in the UK, the maritime climate suits the crop.”
And an advantage with grazing a fodder beet crop is the reduced costs. “There are no harvesting costs, which typically makes it a good option – on the right ground – for dairy young stock. “But consider the land type first,” adds Mr Spence. “Heavy, wet land can make moving fences daily or every few days hard work. And while cattle are typically content and very healthy grazed on fodder beet, muddy conditions may increase crop spoilage”
Areas where beet lifting equipment is available lend themselves to fodder beet crops destined for lifting. “A good contractor will lift the beet in one go and put it in a clamp, or as it’s required.”
Pick your beet
A fodder beet variety with medium dry matter content and has 60% or less root in the ground (compared to some varieties that have more than 70% of their root in the ground) – is better suited to dairy systems. “Varieties with less root in the ground are favoured for grazing situations and they’re cleaner, and more easily utilised.
Plant breeding programmes have brought cleaner, varieties to the market. “Robbos and Blaze are prime examples here,” says Mr Spence. “They have 60% or less of their root in the ground and both have clean roots combined with consistent and reliable yields. We always recommend these two varieties as ideal choices for first time growers. They’re clean when harvested and this reduces the risk of soil contamination in the feed and spoilage in clamps.”
Those with access to washing and chopping equipment may favour a higher dry matter variety. “We’ve got growers who favour high dry matter varieties for that extra feed value. Take Brick, for example, with a dry matter of 24.1%. It is one of the highest dry matter fodder beets available and has 76.3% of its root in the ground.”
Breeding programmes are developing improved varieties all the time with higher dry matters, improved disease resistance and ‘extra’ winter hardiness. “We introduce these, though, when they’re tried and tested. Fodder beet is an ideal crop for the UK’s climate, but each variety needs its merits.”
A new variety added to the National List in 2020 and now available to growers is Fosyma. “This is a good one for dairy cattle as it has a dry matter of between 20% and 21% but has only 60% of its root below the ground, so there’s a reduced risk of soil contamination. It’s also rhizomania tolerant and resistant to powdery mildew, rust and leafspot, as well as having a high tolerance to bolting,” he adds.
Choice of variety will depend on suiting yield potential with the growing, harvesting and feeding system. Disease resistance will also be a consideration. “And buying treated seed with both an insecticide and fungicide will offer a further insurance.”
Dairy producers could well be looking at alternative forage crops to slot into the rotations, as the pest and disease control options in grassland diminish. “Fodder beet should be on the radar,” says Mr Spence.
“Sown in spring, up to the first week of May, it can follow a first-cut silage crop. And if it’s lifted in October there’s chance of a cereal crop being drilled, particularly in drier autumns or more southerly parts of the country. If it’s grazed or lifted through winter, a spring cereal crop, maize, a new grass ley or another fodder crop can be sown. There’s no need to leave bare earth and the fodder beet will provide a useful break in any rotation.”
He adds that fodder beet is an ideal alternative to maize for producers in marginal areas, where conditions don’t lend themselves to maize. “Fodder beet will grow in colder temperatures, so it’s a far more successful crop than maize in some areas.”
In fact, year on year, trials have shown that fodder beet crops can cope with hot, dry summers and wet conditions. “We’ve had some variable conditions in the past five years, yet our field trials with fodder beet show that yields don’t seem to take much of a hit. If these unpredictable seasons are a sign of what’s in store, I can see a lot more livestock producers looking at fodder beet,” he concludes.