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Is Magnum fodder beet the option for 2024?

Tuesday 26 March 2024
Now might be the time to explore Magnum fodder beet as a viable alternative spring cropping for 2024, with winter cereal planting lagging behind and farmers looking to reduce feed costs further.

Magnum fodder beet is a high energy feed with the potential to deliver financial results for both the grower and the consumer, with demand for the crop increasing over the past few years due to escalating feed costs and the growth of alternative outlets, such as anaerobic digestion (AD) for energy production.

Fodder beet and sugar beet are one of the highest energy sources/kg of dry matter (DM) of all the forage crops grown in Ireland, and around 10,000ha are sown in Ireland each year.

Teagasc have shown that beet has the ability to deliver one of the highest gross margins per/ha of all crops grown.

Best practice for growing or feeding beet

1) Rotation

 Beet should only be grown after two years have elapsed since a beet, brassica or oil-seed rape crop was grown.  

Scutch, thistles and volunteer potatoes may be an issue based on the previous rotation. Beet can follow a grass crop, but careful monitoring of soil pests needs to be undertaken.

2) Sowing period

Fodder beet can be sown from early April. Beet is a sensitive crop and will not thrive in harsh conditions.

Delays after mid-April will reduce yields by about 4% per week. Latest sowing time is late May. It is important to monitor weather to avoid frosts post sowing.

3) Seeding rates

Seeds are precision drilled. Aim to establish 30,000 plants/ac. Average field emergence for fodder beet is +/-81% (this varies depending on conditions).

With 56cm (22in) row widths and 18cm (7in) spacing, 40,700 seeds are planted/ac – assuming 74% establishment, this gives 30,000 plants/ac. It’s advisable to sow at a depth of 3.2cm. Rolling post sowing is advisable where conditions allow.

Most precision drills were designed to be driven at 3mph, so watch your forward speed to ensure even depth and seed rate.  Ensure the seed if covered well.

4) Lime and fertiliser

Target a pH of seven and, ideally, lime should be applied one year ahead of growing a beet crop. Farmyard manure (FYM) and or slurry can be applied at heavy rates and should be calculated in fertiliser applications.

Fertiliser recommendations are shown in the following table:

Beet crops need boron. Choose a compound fertiliser with boron and apply before sowing and mix into soil.

A nitrogen top dressing can be applied at the four-to-eight leaf stage.

5) Weed control

Poor weed control is the most common cause of crop failure. The aim is to keep the crop weed-free until at least eight weeks after emergence.

One tall weed above the canopy in a metre square (m²) has the capacity to reduce yield by 10%. T1 timing is generally at 18-21 days with T2 at 10-14 days post T1.

6) Seed treatments

For the 2024 season, Magnum beet seed is coated with a combination of two seed dressings including a fungicide named Tachigaren (hymexazol 14g/u) and an Insecticide, Force 20 CS (Tefluthrin 10g/u).

Tachigaren fungicide protects the seedlings from seed and soil-borne diseases which cause damping off and black leg. It has activity against seed-borne phoma, pythium spp., aphanomyces and fusarium.

Force 20CS provides strong, early season protection against all species of wireworms, optimizing crop establishment. Force delivers excellent seed safety and high flexibility to combine with other seed treatments.

The active ingredient of Force 20CS seed treatment, tefluthrin, expresses a strong vapor pressure (unique level of vapor amongst all SPs) in the soil. Therefore, it spreads in the soil and penetrates the insect’s cuticle, causing a fast feeding stop and death.

In addition, tefluthrin has a strong repellence effect, giving additional protection to seedlings and even helping to repel birds.

It has activity against the following: Corn rootworm (larvae only); wireworm; white grubs; seedcorn maggots; some cutworms (during the infestation phase, when they attack seedlings very close to the ground); springtails; symphylids (centipedes); millipedes; and pygmy beetle.

It does not control against aphid vectors.

7) Efficient feed

Fodder beet on a cost/unit of energy is one of the most efficient feeds per investment of input.

With increased costs this year, the guarantee of consistency of yield and DM % with beet reduces the gamble associated with alternative forage crops such as maize and wholecrop.

8) Feeding beet

Beet is low in protein and minerals, so it needs to be balanced. The sugar content of beet will drive intakes and improve performance.

Ideally, beet should be washed if dirty and chopped to avoid choking. Beet should be introduced gradually with feeding rates increased to 10-15kg/head/day.

A nutritionist will be best placed to plan diets.

Typical analysis:
  • Dry matter yield: 13-20t/ha;
  • Fresh yield: 70-110t/ha;
  • Dry matter: 18-20%; 
  • Metabolisable energy (ME) as MJ/kg of DM: 13.5.

9) Storage

Beet can be stored outdoors in clamps but be wary of frost.

For long-term storage, beet can be ensiled with maize or pulp nuts at a rate of 5:1. This is an ideal high-energy feed for buffer feeding in spring time or intensive cattle finishing.

Success stories

Brian Kirk, a farmer from Co. Louth, said: “We swapped to Magnum because of the leaf cover and the high dry matter. Magnum yields over 30t.

Another Co. Louth farmer Patrick Byrne said: “Green energy is the way forward. Magnum is suitable for anaerobic digestion plants. For dairy production it’s unreal, cows go up in their milk.”

Meanwhile, Gerry Giggins, a nutritionist said: “If cattle had pocket money, it would be beet they’d buy. Feeding fodder beet increases DM intakes and increases cattle performance.”

Ronan Carr, Carr Agro Services said: “Magnum is a popular variety because of its high dry matter content and proven results.”

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