Limagrain’s annual fodder beet trial results demonstrate the consistency of the crop in yield and feed value. “Fodder beet is sown any time from March to April, and harvested from October,” says Limagrain’s Martin Titley. “So it was subject to the dry summer of 2018, and the exceptionally wet conditions experienced in many parts of the UK in autumn and early winter 2019.”
Despite these relatively extreme conditions, trial results from the company’s Lincolnshire site where more than 20 varieties of commercially available fodder beet varieties are compared each year, show high fresh yields, with dry matter yields that exceed most other forages. Average results for 16 varieties on trial are shown in Table 1.
“There’s a lot of consistency in performance, despite contrasting and challenging conditions,” adds Mr Titley. “Even the control variety delivered 73.3 tonnes per hectare of fresh weight in 2018 and 112.5 tonnes in 2019. More than 70t/ha of yield is good going in these dry conditions and in 2019 dry matter yields for most varieties on trial were above 18 tonnes/ha.
“In 2019, the top 20% of varieties in our trial produced fresh yields in excess of 110 tonnes per hectare with 37% having dry matters above 20 tonnes per hectare. “This is a phenomenal output.”
Grown in the UK for more than 50 years, fodder beet ‘took off’ due to its monogerm breeding – one plant per seed – making it easier to harvest. Since then the number of varieties has increased and breeders have worked to enhance cleanliness of root and disease tolerance.
“The UK climate is perfect for fodder beet. Wet, moist soils in spring are ideal and grows through to October or November, adding 30% to its dry matter yields in the last few months when there’s likely to be more moisture.”
Table 2 shows the performance of the control and four popular fodder beet varieties used in dairy cow diets.
Contractor Aaron Hughes from Shropshire agrees that this season’s fodder beet yields have been the biggest he’s ever harvested, despite challenging harvesting conditions.
His company, Roger Davies Contractors, specialises in beets and, with a remit to supply stone-free, muck-free beet, they harvest, wash, clean and chop about 100 hectares on behalf of dairy farmers. For many they also contract drill the crop in spring.
“We have the equipment to wash the beet and ensure all the stones are removed if it’s for a feeder wagon. Some farmers are now using mulcher buckets that crush the beet before adding it to the wagon. Either way, the popularity of this crop on dairy units is growing yearly.
He says that there aren’t really any downsides to fodder beet – even though 2019 harvesting conditions were challenging. “We always manage to get the crop; we’ve invested in a 6-wheeler beet harvester with wide, low pressure tyres causing less ground compaction and if it’s wet, we load into trailers over the hedge. It’s the trailers that cause the soil damage and so we keep them off the field.”
This season much of the crop has had to be washed twice. “It’s not too often we get such wet conditions,” adds Aaron, “but it did give us more work.” But this doesn’t deter anyone and every year they get more interest in growing the crop for livestock units. “Cows love it – they sift through the silage to find it.”
Wiltshire-based nutritionist Diana Allen certainly encourages farmers to include fodder beet in dairy rations as a cost-effective homegrown forage.
“Fodder beet is also one of the best ways of boosting milk protein,” she says. “It’s a great source of sugar and fermentable energy which can stimulate the rumen bacteria, but it must be balanced with an equally rumen available source of nitrogen for the bugs from feedstuffs like rapeseed meal, distillery by-products and urea. And the overall sugar and starch must be balanced to prevent any risk of the rumen becoming too acidic.”
The crop offers flexibility when it comes t harvesting, and it can be left in the ground, with little feed value deterioration, until January or February.
“If it’s harvested early it can be clamped in layers with maize silage as long as it’s pre-chopped and well consolidated,” adds Ms Allen. “Or it can be clamped in the spring, before going too soft, and in layers with 25% soya hulls to absorb effluent. This can provide a valuable feed through summer.”