Growing fodder beet in Canterbury

When it comes to achieving a premium fodder beet crop, Bayer Crop Science’s Canterbury rep David Parker believes you can never plan too far ahead

David has been at the forefront of the surge in fodder beet planting witnessed through Canterbury in recent years as more and more dairy farmers in particular recognise its potential as a high yielding crop suitable for feeding from autumn through to late winter.

Several key strands need to be pulled together under a beet crop plan. Once a feed budget has determined how much crop is required, it then needs to pin point what paddock is most suitable.

It is not just a case of how well that paddock may be cultivated. You will also need to ask ‘is it suitable to feed a crop off, are things like gate ways and water supply well located?’”

Choose the best paddock

Beets do best on free draining soils that encourage good tap root development, and reduce the risk of harbouring fungal diseases sometimes found on heavier soils. Irrigation in Canterbury will always help with beet growth, but David advises against irrigating too soon, reducing soil temperatures to sub-optimal levels and sometimes causing capping of the soil surface.

Fertility testing is also another “must do” before planting, determining levels of macro nutrients and giving consideration also to trace elements such as Boron. It is very important to correct any deficiencies that may lead to growth checks or poor bulb development in crops.

Once ensuring the crop will be planted in the best possible environment, all attention needs to turn to seed bed preparation, and ultimately effective weed control.

Seedbed preparation is vital

For an effective weed free seed bed, David is recommending a “stale seedbed” method, spraying the paddock out with glyphosate, grazing it hard then letting it brown off before starting cultivation.

Either ploughing or power harrows are a good option, cultivating to a good depth to ensure maximum friability for the tap root to extend into the soil.

“Attention to preparation around controlling weeds and seed bed preparation mean fodder beet really need to be treated like a market garden crop – that’s not always the quickest thing to do, but doing it will ensure that you help to maximise the genetic potential of your crop.”

Set an effective spray programme

Typically fodder beet is a crop that is slow to establish, meaning it will always be outcompeted by weeds if inadequate preparation and spray controls are used. An effective pre-emergent spray like Nortron from Bayer Crop Science sensitise early weeds when it comes time to apply Betanal Quattro as a post emergent spray. “That can be applied at a light rate (2l/ha) at the cotyledon stage to small weeds. It is important to walk the paddocks regularly. After the true leaves have developed then you can apply Betanal Quattro at a rate between 3 to 5lts /ha depending on weed spectrum and size.

David emphasises good weed control from emergence to the four leaf stage is “absolutely vital” to ensure the crop gets the best opportunity to develop a full canopy. From that point the lowered light levels will help reduce weed vigour as the crop grows.

Because fodder beet is a high demand crop for nutrients, a side dressing of nitrogen is usually applied post-emergence, again to encourage that green canopy growth that in turn helps curb weed proliferation

The key with beet is to keep everything in balance, that includes the soils, the fertility, weed levels, disease control and micro-nutrients. Get them right and you will have a very profitable, highly nutritious crop.

Contact David, or get in touch with your local Bayer representative