Fodder beet or similar plants have been domesticated for 500 years. Despite that New Zealand was the only country in the world to graze cattle and deer directly on the crop. There are 14,000ha in the South Island, but only 1,000 ha in the North, but it is rapidly expanding (2013). Fodder beet is the ideal crop for dairy and beef cattle and deer. It has the potential to replace maize and PKE as it is so cheap to grow, when grown properly.
A successful crop will be the cheapest feed you grow; way cheaper than PKE or maize, being between 3c and 13c/kgdm. It will be the highest quality feed you can grow. Its ME value will remain constant at about 12 regardless of maturity stage. Other crops lose quality as yield increases, but fodder beet doesn’t, lasting for up to 400 days if required. It is high energy feed. It has very high water soluble carbohydrates. It is very highly digestible. It prefers free-draining light to medium soils including sandy soils. Fodder beet can produce 40 tonnes of DM/ha and will do more, particularly in the North Island. Short of disaster, you can bank on 20 - 25 tonnes. Growth rates can be as high as 200kg/ha DM (and higher to 300 at times), but 100 is very common. Most crops will grow a tonne or more per hectare per week.
A fodder beet crop can be fed to animals from February to November. Stock develop a taste for it very quickly. It can be used for milking cows, dry cows, beef, young stock, sheep and deer. Expect an increase in milk solids. Stock will also gain weight, including in winter. It can be fed in situ. No harvesting is required, but you can if you need to. If harvested, it will store in open windrows for 5 months. The utilisation of fodder beet is as close to 100% as you can get. It loves potassium, so is an answer for some farms with high potassium built up from effluent. It tolerates high sodium, so can be used in saline soils. Its nitrogen requirement is relatively low, so the environment is not compromised.
It is more water efficient than brassicas, so does better than them in dry seasons. It is a far better feed proposition than turnips, although it is very much "horses for courses".
It requires a good paddock, not a poor one. That means one that has been chosen and the fertility corrected well in advance. Seed bed preparation must be superior. For best results, precision drilling is required. Do not drill faster than 4km/hr. The soil temperature needs to be 10 - 12 degrees for 5 days in a row before planting. Weed control must be of the highest order. It is susceptible to certain chemicals that may be already in the soil from previous cropping.
There is only one animal health disorder to be concerned about and that is acidosis. Some literature suggests nitrate and oxalic acid poisoning, and bloat may be a problem. This is not true. Acidosis can be avoided by proper transitioning of stock onto fodder beet. Acidosis is not a crop or a fertiliser problem, but a management problem. The transition period is 10 - 14 days. You need to accurately assess yield to know stock intake. Double fence the breaks, to prevent stock from breaking out.
If feeding high DM allowances, some phosphorus and calcium supplementation may be required. Keep an eye on trace mineral levels in stock. Get advice well in advance. She’ll be right won’t work.
One crop was only 20t/ha, but grossed the owner $50,000 during the dry season of 2014 in the Waikato. It was fed out early and prevented the owner from drying the cows off too early. A poor crop is likely to cost 12-13c/kgdm. A good one will be less tha 5c depending on fertiliser status of the paddock chosen. Choosing paddocks that are free of perenial weeds is very important.
Fodder Beet is able to sustain all clases of stock, including lambs. Growth rates on the crop will be superior, enabling accelerated stock fattening to occur. This has the potential of attracting payment premiums.