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Fodder Beet Musings

With the season drawing to a close, the farms I am involved with have had above average pasture growth rates (45 – 52 kg DM/ha) over the last three weeks and are well positioned to meet their 1st June APC targets. Fodder beet and some silage/baleage is being fed to lengthen the round and balance the high protein levels in pasture. Attention has turned towards finishing the season well while quantifying herd BCSs, putting thinner cows on once a day milking or drying them off. The winter crops have been assessed and winter feed budgets done.

Agricom facilitated a well-attended “Fodder Beet for the Future” seminar in Gore on 1st May where topics included the negative effects of feeding fodder beet to stock, feed allocation and realistic weight gains on fodder beet, diseases in fodder beet and the work Agricom is doing around variability of dry matter percentages in NZ fodder beet crops.

We were informed that the NZ fodder beet annual seed demand is now double the whole European market. With the NZ livestock industry embracing this crop to that extent in such a short time, Agricom is to be congratulated for organising this informative day and for their ongoing trials and research.

Anyone feeding fodder beet to stock would do well to get up to speed with the messages given. In brief the main points I took away from the main speakers are:

Ben Allot – North Canterbury Veterinary Clinics:

  • Incidence of ketosis doubles when BCS increases from BSC 5 to BSC 6 – avoid over-fat cows

  • Manage the energy and calcium intake prior calving

  • Understand the energy, fibre and mineral requirements of the calving cow and manage colostrum cows accordingly

  • Fodder beet is low in phosphorus – phosphorous and calcium should be supplemented through the whole season as required

Glenn Judson – Animal Nutritionist at Agricom:

  • Supplement choice on crop is important – especially to younger animals

  • Feed allocation is the most important driver of performance

  • Yield, break size and stock number will dictate animal performance

Sam Robinson – Fodder Beet Technical Specialist at Agricom:

  • There is a large DM% variation between FB bulbs within a paddock

  • There is a variation in FB bulb DM% of each variety between sites

  • Small bulbs tend to have a higher DM% than large bulbs

  • Utilisation is similar between varieties

  • Small bulbs are less palatable than large bulbs

  • Every paddock is different – get your DM% tested to get an accurate yield

  • What you see is not always what you get

To illustrate the last point, Sam had a table with three piles of fodder beet and one of swedes on display (photo below) and asked which pile had the highest DM weight. Which do you think has the highest DM weight?

The answer is at the end of this blog.

Our attention was also drawn to the various bacterial, fungal and viral diseases that are becoming more widespread in NZ fodder beet crops. A few seasons ago very few, if any fodder beet crops needed spraying, but that has now changed and as a result, better management is required from growers. Bayer has an excellent “Guide to Identifying Diseases in Beet Crops” – get your own.

In the Q and A session, a question was asked about the shortest sustainable rotation length for fodder beet crops. The answer was – “as long as possible, probably 10 years”!!! In runoff situations, a five year rotation is more realistic and practical, but it is important to understand disease and bolter issues that can arise when beet is continuously cropped. I understand that there are areas in Europe where fodder beet is unviable due to disease and bolter issues. We have had a similar experience in Southland with wild turnip infestation making some varieties of summer turnips unviable.

The introduction of fodder beet to NZ has given the NZ dairy farmer a wonderful tool to increase productivity and profitability. Let’s farm it with a view to having it for a good, long time. A first step towards fodder beet longevity in NZ is to dissuade double cropping and short rotation cycles.


With fodder beet, what you see is not always what you get. Get a DM assessment on your crop.

Use these DM yields to firm up your winter feed budget.

Fodder beet is a wonderful winter feed but needs to be managed well:

  • Through the transition stage

  • By allocating crop and supplement correctly

  • By understanding and feeding the mineral requirements through winter

  • By having a realistic plan for the cows to gain the BCS required at calving and monitor progress

  • By understanding the energy and mineral requirements prior to and post calving

The answer is that all the piles have the same DM weight – 10 kg DM.

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