Identify paddocks intended for sowing fodder beet at least 12 months before sowing of the crop.
Fodder beet is very sensitive to acid soils and the pH needs to be tested (pH of 6 to 6.5 is required) and lime applied at least 6 months before sowing if required. Fine lime can be used closer to planting but this will be more expensive and achieve only a shorter term increase in soil pH.
When selecting crop area, be realistic about the state of the paddock and be willing to do what is required to overcome issues such as soil damage caused by pugging. If following another crop, ensure that the paddock history is known before planting as seedlings can be susceptible to residual herbicides applied the previous season. For further advice on residual chemical impacts consult your technical field rep or seed supplier.
The area required to feed a certain number of animals depends on crop yields and intended animal intake. On heavier soil types with a high DM yield potential care needs to be taken to select paddocks less susceptible to pugging damage and to minimise run-off during grazing.
Consider regional council environmental regulations such as proximity to waterways, potential water run-off, and logistics of feed management issues such as access to stock water.
- Select free draining paddocks (preferably with a deep loam soil and good water holding capacity)
- Check herbicides applied over the previous 2 years (certain chemical residuals effect fodder beet establishment)
- Soil test at least 12 months prior to sowing to target pH 6 to 6.5. Fodder beet is very sensitive to acid soils
- Calculate area required.
Soil preparation and pre-sowing considerations
Fodder beet is a specialist crop and must be planned with contractors well in advance.
Fodder beet is sown at a low seeding rate so a weed free seed bed is for important optimal germination. Fodder beet is particularly vulnerable to dry conditions and competition from weeds during establishment. A good way to reduce this risk is to use a ‘stale’ seedbed – where the seedbed is prepared 4-6 weeks before sowing. Only use glyphosate for plant knockdown as other chemical can have residual effects on subsequent growth.
It is important to bury plant material at least 25cm with a mouldboard plough and ensure that sub-soils are free of pans. Ploughing should be followed by multiple surface workings producing a surface that is as fine and clod free as possible. Apply basal fertiliser prior to the last surface working and roll with a Cambridge roller prior to drilling.
Lifting versus grazing
Plan for how you intend to use the crop. Sowing in 50 cm rows means there is an option to lift as well as graze the crop. Precision sowing using GPS steering will make lifting easier and decrease wastage.
When planning to lift a crop, be aware of the amount of nutrients removed per tonne of yield, especially potassium and consider the needs of future crops. This can be very useful from an effluent block management point of view as it will help reduce the K content of the soil if the fodder beet is fed elsewhere.
How the crop is to be managed should inform planting layout. For grazing remember to allow for good cow access during transition onto the crop – you need space in the paddock to manage the all-important low allocation of crop per cow.
Planting layout can be used to assist with crop allocation in uniformly shaped paddocks. Grazing parallel to the rows provides a clear break to minimise the risk of cows eating too far under the wire and increasing their allocation.
A 6-metre-wide (or greater) headland parallel to the rows can be made by planting a green feed crop or by lifting beet for transitioning cows before dry off. If you expect to lift a strip plant a high DM% variety in 50cm rows spacing to make harvesting easier.
Think about how and where supplements will be fed. Look to optimize the number of mobs and laneways required, this will save time and improve supplement utilisation in winter. A map of how you want the paddock planted can help the contractor with their cultivation and sowing decisions.
- For a ‘stale’ seed bed, spray out paddock 4-6 weeks before sowing
- Consider planting layout for crop access for cow transition and supplement management.
Fodder beet needs a fine, firm, moist seed bed with good soil-seed contact to achieve a uniform plant population.
Full cultivation practices and precision sowing are essential for good fodder beet establishment. A precision planter is recommended for sowing fodder beet as it ensures that seeds are planted with appropriate spacing’s, enabling each bulb to grow to its potential.
Fodder beet is normally sown at 80,000–90,000 seeds per hectare (8-9 seeds sown per m2) – 50cm row spacing and 25cm between plants in the rows. The optimum sowing depth is around 2cm.
For harvesting types, increase the sowing rate to suit the variety, the drilling environment, the drill spacing, and type of harvester. This will typically be between 100,000–120,000 seeds per ha.
Rolling the paddock after drilling with a Cambridge roller will help to maximise seed to soil contact giving a more even germination. For more info see Farmfact 1-77.
This is location and temperature dependent, but generally October to late November is recommend. Soil temperature should be at least 10°C and stable or increasing for at least one week before sowing.
Fodder beet should ideally be established when conditions are adequate and the soil temperature is high enough. Sowing too early can result in vernalisation – where plants will be stimulated to flower and seed prematurely with little bulbing. Later sowing may risk the germination rate due to lack of soil moisture and shortens the growing season impacting yield.
- Cultivate to create a fine, firm seed bed
- Sow fodder beet in spring when soil temperatures are consistently > 10 ° C, ensuring adequate soil moisture is available
- Sow 2cm deep using a precision planter, at desired sowing rate
- Roll paddock after sowing to increase effectiveness of pre-emergence herbicide and to maximise soil-seed contact.
High yielding fodder beet crops require high inputs of fertiliser or soil derived nutrients. The fertiliser management for fodder beet differs from brassicas.
Whereas brassicas have a high demand for nitrogen (N) and phosphate (P), fodder beet has a higher demand for potassium (K), magnesium (Mg) and Na. All basal fertiliser should be applied pre-plant and not with the seed.
Weeds, pests, and diseases
Fodder beet seedlings are slow to establish and reach canopy closure making them especially susceptible to weeds and pests during early crop development.
In the early stages, fodder beet plants are very sensitive to chemicals: take care to avoid spraying during the heat of the day and ensure that tank mixes are compatible and that any threatening spray residues in the spray tank have been properly cleaned out. Problems can arise in crops with uneven germination as some plants will be at the wrong growth stage when chemical is applied.
The main pests are springtails, nysius, cutworm and slugs. Farmers are well advised to inspect young crops regularly by walking well into the paddock and apply appropriate insecticide if necessary.
The correct timing of chemical applications is crucial for weed control
The first spray is the pre-emergence/post planting spray – this is applied after drilling but before plant emergence. Apply as soon after planting as possible. An insecticide should be included in the spray. Two post emergence sprays generally follow this. Seek professional advice on what chemicals to use. There are new products available which allow very early [cotyledon stage] spraying options.