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The Basics of Growing Fodder Beet

Words by Alice Scott


As winter ends, lambing and calving are underway and thoughts turn to the next few months and setting up the farm for next winter.


Invercargill-based agronomist Trevor Todd says paddock selection, the type of crop to be grown and what inputs and what advice is needed are next on the agenda. “Paddock selection, including soil type and location on-farm as well as soil testing, were hopefully done several months ago, with recommendations and plan already set in place to address any fertility issues as well as a plan for what is being sown and when.” 


Fodder beet does not like low ph soils, so correcting this early is essential. A Farmlands TFO can give advice on the correct fodder beet cultivar for stock. “There are varieties ranging from low dry matter grazing cultivars through to ones suitable for lifting.


“Previous crop and chemical history should also have been discussed, as both these can affect any following crop. Certain chemicals can have a detrimental effect on fodder beet,” Trevor says. 


Trevor notes that multi-cropping can present issues around plant health and increase the risk of disease as well. Spraying the paddock targeting both grass and broadleaf weeds is followed by working the paddock and incorporation of fertiliser required to establish the crop.


Hopefully this is done four to six weeks prior to the crop going in. Ideally prepare a fine, firm seed bed; this will give the best result in terms of plant establishment and weed control going forward. “Uneven and cloddy seed bed preparation is a potential recipe for disaster,” he says.



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Once prepped, it’s time to sow the crop. Most fodder beet is precision-planted, giving a nice even plant count, with even row spacings and Trevor says this allows for maximum bulb development. 


“Pre-emergence spraying needs to be done immediately post-sowing. This should include both herbicides to allow the crop to establish itself free of competition and an insecticide to give some early protection against insect pests such as nysius and springtail,” he says. 


Over the next few weeks, regular monitoring for any issues will be undertaken by your Farmlands TFO. “They will be checking for competition from weeds as well as pressure from insects, including greasy cutworm, a pest that can have quite a devastating effect over a relatively short time period, while weeds compete for light and nutrients and can harbour pests and viruses.”


For the best result, target these early, as larger weeds become progressively harder to kill as they grow, Trevor says. “Depending on the season, the crop may require an additional application of fertiliser. Having a plan in place is advisable.”


Once canopy closure is achieved the job is still not done. “Regular monitoring is needed. Fungal disease can occur after this stage including mildew, rust and cercospora. These target the leaf canopy. Safeguarding against fungal infection helps drive yield while also suppressing weeds, so early applications of a recommended fungicide at the first sign of infection is vital to aid in maintaining plant health and yield,” he says.


“Another issue to consider is bolters, which are plants that go reproductive and produce a seed. The early removal of these is important, as these will grow, mature and set seed which will make growing successive beet crops impossible.”



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