Fodder beet (Beta vulgaris) is typically sown in spring (October to late November) for a high yielding winter crop which can be used as either a single graze option from May to August, or the bulbs can be physically ‘lifted’ by machinery and fed to stock. Lifted bulbs can be stored in a windrow for up to five months if leaves are removed.
Fodder beet has been used in New Zealand for many years, first grown as ‘mangels’ in the 1920s. In the past five years modern hybrid cultivars have become increasingly popular as a winter feed for cattle, deer and sheep due to their high yields, high ME value (12+ MJ ME/kg DM), high utilisation (typically 90%) and relative lack of disease pressure compared with brassicas. Under good management fodder beet can yield 30 t DM/ha, but typical yields are 18-24 t DM/ ha with reasonable summer moisture.
Originally fodder beet types were ‘multi-germ’, which meant crops had to be thinned, as most seeds gave rise to two bulbs. Today multi-germ seed is processed so that most emerge as a single bulb. Breeders have also developed true ‘mono-germ’ hybrids, where only one bulb develops from each seed, with better seed quality and germination rates. Most fodder beet cultivars available are mono-germ hybrids.
Fodder beet is expensive and requires attention to detail to grow a good crop, but can provide high ME winter feed at a relatively low c/kg DM cost (10-15c/kg DM in direct costs; or 15-20c/kg DM including the opportunity cost of 8-10 t DM/ha lost pasture growth), IF high crop yields are achieved. To do this best practice must be followed throughout the entire process from seedbed preparation to sowing, fertiliser, weed and pest control, and transitioning animals to prevent rumen acidosis.