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Fodder beet could offer livestock farmers a cost-effective energy source this year – but growing it will require careful management following an especially wet... Fodder beet could be popular choice this spring

Fodder beet could offer livestock farmers a cost-effective energy source this year – but growing it will require careful management following an especially wet winter.

“Fodder beet is a crop that requires investment and attention to detail,” says Ryhs Owen, of agronomy specialists ProCam. “However, done right, it can be the most cost-effective forage crop available.”

A typical dry matter yield of some 25t/ha means fodder beet can cost as little as 5-6.5p/kg DM. This is about one third to half the cost of grass silage on many farms – and cheaper than 8-10p/kg DM for kale.

Fodder beet is drilled earlier than most forage crops, with the optimum sowing period being mid-March to the end of April. In all cases, site selection is the first consideration alongside the correct seedbed preparation.

Seedbed

Light and medium bodied soils that are free draining are best, with a pH of 6.5 or higher.

Optimum establishment and crop growth will be achieved with a fine and firm seedbed in the upper 5-7cm, with a more open structure below.

“If you are intending to graze the crop in situ, it’s important to plan ahead of drilling in order to optimise the layout,” says Mr Owen.

“If planning to transition cattle on to beet, leave a 6m headland to allow them space.

“Also, drill in a direction that enables the fence to be positioned along the rows, which simplifies allocation of the crop to all stock. If the field is sloping, always aim to graze downhill.”

Maximising returns will depend on choosing a suitable variety. Grazing cattle will favour a medium DM variety like Geronimo (above right), with sheep or young cattle thriving on a lower DM variety, such as Lactimo, that sits out of the ground more.

Canopy closure

“In all cases, I’d recommend using primed or pre-germinated seed, as this will result in a faster and more even establishment, with the crop reaching canopy closure more quickly,” says Mr Owen.

“Primed seed is an important advance in fodder beet growing. It should be used alongside a number of other significant agronomic improvements in order to achieve full potential.

“Where a crop is destined for grazing, for example, fertiliser application and disease control should be geared towards maintaining green leaf growth longer into the season, boosting overall yield and protein content.”

Fodder beet has a total nitrogen requirement of about 200-240kg/ha, compared to 120-150kg/ha for traditional beet, says Mr Owen. But the right inputs at the right time will help ensure it outperforms many other forage crops, he adds.

Five steps to success with fodder beet

• Opt for suitable site and seedbed

• Plan field layout ahead of drilling

• Choose  proven varieties which are  compatible with end use

• Select primed seed

• Use tailored agronomy