Beet the Winter Feed Wedge

Mark Palmer, Stephen Pasture Seeds, Northern VIC & Southern Riverina

Have you ever found yourself short of feed to carry your stock through the winter? Do you want to capitalise on higher meat and milk prices over the winter?
If so then the concept of a fodder beet crop may have a fit in your farming operation. Fodder beets are a cross between a mangold beet and a sugar beet. They produce both a highly digestible bulb and leaf which holds exceptional nutritive value. The Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) (Pembleton & Rawnsley 2011) indicates metabolisable energy of 11 - 12%, crude protein 13% (majority of which is found in the leaf, bulbs are quite low in crude protein) and neutral detergent fibre of 23%. Thus they have great potential to provide a high quality and quantity of out of season feed. Sown in mid-spring fodder beet are grown on average for 250 days and fed off from May through July.
Jamon fodderbeet | AusWest & Stephen Pasture Seeds
Jamon fodder beet

Feeding to Stock
When it comes to feeding off the crop it is important to introduce stock gradually, Agricom recommends you transition stock over a 21 day period. Transitioning is done by gradually increasing the amount of fodder beet intake while decreasing the amount of supplement forage intake (usually silage or hay). Accurate and regular yield estimates are also highly important for managing animal intake. Crop yield can vary greatly over a paddock so yield estimates for calibrating grazing break size is highly important. It is recommended you seek experienced advice from either your agronomist or your local AusWest or Stephen Pasture Seed territory manager on how to set up a transitioning program. When setting up feed breaks we recommend that you set up long narrow strips, as per the image (right), so that stock aren’t walking over the crop. This also gives individual animals plenty of access without pushing for space. It’s advisable to set up the following days break as a safety buffer in case the stock break out. This will help to prevent gorging and aid in retrieving stock as they can’t travel too much further into the crop.

In summary fodder beet has great potential to produce highly nutritious bulk stand of winter feed.  Sown in spring it is grown for approximately 250 days through spring, summer and autumn with final yields capable of reaching 25 plus tonnes of drymatter per hectare.  It is highly advised the crop is grown and managed using expert agronomic advice to gain its full potential.

Pembleton, K. Rawnsley, R. November 2011, “Growing Fodder Beets on Tasmanian DairyFarms”. Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)

Fodderbeet cows | AusWest & Stephen Pasture Seeds
Dairy cows grazing on a narrow long break
Mono vs Multi fodder beet | AusWest & Stephen Pasture Seeds
Figure 1: Multi-germ versus. Mono-germ
As with many crops early preparation is paramount for reaching full yield potential, this preparation needs to start as early as March or April if not the season before. Broadleaf weeds are the greatest challenge to an emerging fodder beet crop so paddock selection is paramount. Select paddocks which have had an active broad leaf control carried out over the past few year. The paddock may be an old perennial ryegrass that is now due to be fully renovated prior to going into a new pasture stand. Fodder beet should be sown into a firm cultivated seed bed with a precision seeder on 50cm spacings. The purpose of this is to achieve correct seed placement at intervals that allow for sufficient bulb development. Pre-emergent herbicide applications are also required in order to achieve optimum establishment. As the fodder beet starts to emerge the crop will need continual monitoring for weed and insect pressure, the chemicals used for post emergent spraying state that application needs to occur between the second and fourth leaf stages of the crop. We recommend consulting with your local reseller agronomist for advice.

Fodder beet, due to its high yield potential of 18 to 25 tonne of drymatter per hectare average, has a high nutritional requirement, as with all new plantings it is important that you get a soil test prior to sowing. TIA (Pembleton & Rawnsley 2011) indicates that the levels of nutrient required are, phosphorus 70kg/ha, potassium 200kg/ha, 50 to 100kg/ha of sulphur and 170kg/ha of nitrogen. In regards to nitrogen it is best to apply at sowing (included in DAP) then the remainder to be top dressed prior to canopy closer. Trace elements such as boron and magnesium are also utilised by the crop however application rates are situation specific so these should be cross referenced with a soil test first. Given fodder beets have originated from the Mediterranean climate they also benefit from an application of agricultural grade salt when grown in non-saline conditions. Once the crop reaches canopy closure there is little more action required other than applying irrigation and monitoring the crop to ensure it is developing correctly.


When selecting a cultivar, consideration needs to be given depending on if the crop is to be used for lifting or for grazing. The bulbs of grazing varieties sit 50 to 60% above the ground and lifting varieties (mechanically harvested) sit further into the ground allowing for uniform lifting. Another attribute to consider is whether the variety is mono-germ or multi-germ (also known as technical mono-germ), as shown in Figure 1. Mono-germ cultivars are bred with individual seeds which allows for more accurate seed placed and uniformity of crop establishment. The seeds from multi-germ or technical mono-germ varieties form in clusters and require mechanical scarifying to separate the individual seeds. If the seed is under scarified then some seeds will still be in clusters resulting in multiple germination at a singular site which can reduce yield potential per hectare as the bulbs don’t develop as well. If the seed is over scarified then the germination can be affected and result in sub optimal plant number per hectare. The three varieties that we distribute are, Rivage, Monro and Jamon. These varieties are all mono-germ types providing superior uniformity in their establishment.

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