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Adapting Scotland’s Approach to Growing Fodder Beet

23 February 2024

This article is produced as a part of the FAS Crops & Soils Bulletin. Subscribe now to receive the full report in your inbox monthly.

Following a recent visit from Dr Jim Gibbs, senior lecturer at Lincoln University, New Zealand who spoke to farmers about growing fodder beet It became apparent that our agronomy approach has not really evolved from the agronomy applied to growing sugar beet, which is largely focussed on sucrose production, rather than dry matterWhilst the two crops are the same species the purpose for which we use them is completely different and, we have not altered our agronomy and fertiliser strategies to reflect this. 

Explaining Fodder Beet’s Increased Popularity

In the space of 10 years the fodder beet acreage in New Zealand has grown from 50ha to 70,000ha with yields of 35 tonnes+ of dry matter/ha regularly being reported and even expected under agronomy contractsFodder beet has the potential to be the cheapest source of energy we can grow on UK farms, whether fed in situ or lifted for in- shed feedingBut the key to achieving these incredible yields is in identifying the purpose you are going to use the beet – grazing or lifting, and then selecting the varieties and the agronomy to match. 

How Fodder Beet Differs from Sugar Beet

The nitrogen rates for sugar beet are purposed to produce a bulb which has a low sugar content to make the manufacturing process easier,  the leaf is irrelevant, removed at harvest.  Nitrogen has an important part to play in increasing yield, sugar content and in leaf retention through the winter.  With late N applications acting as a frost protectant.    

Fodder beet leaves are higher in crude protein and essential minerals than the bulb, where the energy is stored. If the leaf to bulb ratio is too low, it can compromise the performance of grazing animals.  Extensive trials in New Zealand and some smaller trials in the UK have shown that a total N rate of 200kg/ha from both organic and inorganic sources can increase total crop yield by 60%.  It is important to note that the response to Nitrogen will be increased where soil pH, P and K levels are optimal and the crop can not be compromised by poor weed or disease control.  The crop is especially sensitive in early establishment to weeds, and these must be controlled in a timely manner. 

Setting Your Soil Up For Success

Dr Gibbs explained the advice in NZ if for growers to aim for a soil pH of 6.5 and P & K levels of Moderate+.  Fodder beet requires fresh applications of phosphate, boron, sulphur, sodium and is a significant user of potash.  Sodium should be used to a maximum of 200kg/ha and assists with reducing the level of potash required.  A custom blend of fertiliser based on soil analysis is the most efficient way to apply the seedbed fertiliser and subsequent applications in fewer passes.   

Whilst previously Nitrogen and other nutrients are regularly applied over 2 applications, with the last application typically made in June, research in New Zealand has shown that applications with an increased N rate of 200kg should be made over 3 or 4 applications with a very late application made in the Autumn, to provide frost protection for the leaf, in the scenario that there is good leaf to protect in the crop.  It would also be recommended to NZ farmers that the 3rd application of N made in late Summer includes around 50kg of  potash or around 15% required for the crop.  Scottish farms typically have an added asset over New Zealand, in that we have farm yard manure, which offers slow release nitrogen through the growing year.

Applying This Knowledge In Scotland

In Scotland we can be restricted by NVZ rules, our obligation to protect waterways and often ground conditions in the late Autumn, however we do have the benefit of more organic manures in our systems which may be one way in which we can avoid compromising our environmental obligations with late Nitrogen applications but instead use the slow-release nature of organic manures to increase our total N. 

We should also consider that if a crop is being lifted and the top removed, there is not the need for a late application of Nitrogen, to protect the leaf.  Meaning the 3/4 applications can be brought closer together earlier in the season, mitigating the issues around Autumn fertiliser applications. 

There is much more research and trials required in the UK to adapt the success that growers in New Zealand, have had with increasing the yield and leaf quality of their fodder beet crops.  We do have environmental restrictions, but the potential is there to grow a high energy winter feed at a low cost.  If you are already growing fodder beet or thinking about introducing it to your system, then you must firstly consider what is the end use of that crop before selecting varieties and preparing a fertiliser and pesticide programme.

Lorna Galloway, SAC Consulting

Further Information

Please seek more advice from a BASIS and FACTS qualified advisor or visit Nitrate Vulnerable Zones: guidance for farmers - (  and Know the Rules - Diffuse Pollution Information Sheets - Farming and Water Scotland for more information on NVZ and water pollution rules. 

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