By Andrew Best, of Watson Seeds

'Yes', you ask yourself – 'I have taken on board the concept of producing more energy from my acres using brassicas and I do agree they answer the solution to feeding my beef and sheep in the leaner months of the year'.

Then you might add: 'The practice has been wonderful, but I am now coming around to the problem of clubroot in my rotation – a couple of fields earmarked for kale are polluted with it and I have been told they are unusable for maybe 20 years, until the risk is fully away.'

But are there not clubroot tolerant varieties, such as Caledonian kale? There are, but the devil is in the detail – they are tolerant, not immune and by using it you might have a strain of clubroot that decimates the supposedly tolerant kale. A further problem can be the spread of clubroot from field to field on tractor wheels and other farm machines.

Weed control in brassicas has basically been to pray and hope that weeds do not get the better of the crop. So, it is probably not the most reliable method of providing feed for the coming winter months for hungry livestock.

As an alternative to brassicas, several livestock producers have embraced another crop that provides energy in buckets, for the feeding of either sheep or cattle, fodder beet.

Fodder beet is a high yielding forage crop with a good resistance to disease, good ground cover and a long utilisation window, either for feeding in situ or mechanically harvested. As expected, considering its close relationship to sugar beet, it is also highly palatable.

Maybe its main downfall could be a lack of protein, especially after the tops have been killed by frost, as these are the main source of protein.

Growing fodder beet is not for the faint-hearted and attention to detail is highly important in making the most from the crop. Your best friend should be your agronomist, especially if you are not confident in the selection of sprays and fertiliser.

To make the best of this crop, you need a soil type which is medium to light and free draining, with a pH of 6.5 to 7. The seed bed should be firm and with a fine tilth and it needs a sowing temperature of at least 5°C before sowing. Delaying drilling can mean losses at harvest and with regard to fertiliser, all the P and K should be applied in the previous year.

But at Watson Seeds, we can see the great potential of fodder beet for those who have the potential to grow this excellent feed. We have conducted several trials to ascertain the most suitable varieties for Scottish and Northern England farms.

We are indebted to John Scott, Fearn Farm, Fearn, Tain, and Robert and Alan Lamont, Dunslaw Farm, Duns, Berwickshire, for allowing us to test the crop by sowing a selection of fodder beet varieties, that we hoped would be suitable for their farms.

The following is some of the results from the trials. (The data is only a guide, as we did not conduct replicated plots such as those carried out by fodder beet plant breeders).

Dunslaw Farm

Variety Fresh root yield (t/ha) DM content % DM yield (t/ha) Total fresh yield (t/ha) Root colour

Geronimo 91.25 15.0 13.69 135.00 Orange

Lactimo 100.00 15.0 15.00 147.50 Orange

Analysed by SRUC

Fearn Farm

Variety Fresh root yield (t/ha) DM content % DM yield (t/ha) Total fresh yield (t/ha) Root colour

Blaze 80.3 18.5 14.85 122.86 Red

Fortimo 73.63 15.0 11.04 129.35 Red

Geronimo 75.17 15.0 11.27 124.16 Orange

Jamon 83.95 16.0 13.43 135.54 Orange

Lactimo 88.67 15.0 13.30 134.1 Orange

Monro 76.76 14.0 10.47 132.73 Red

Ribondo 62.53 20.8 13.01 116.42 Orange

Robbos 87.12 19.9 17.34 153.67 Yellow

Tarine 82.86 20.1 16.65 141.17 Pink

Analysed by SRUC

Farmers who grow it:

Dominic Naylor, estate manager and Tim Matthewson

Lilburn Estates’ in house agronomist, North Middleton House, Wooler, Northumberland

Lilburn Estates started growing fodder beet in 2016 to provide winter forage for its 5300-ewe lowland sheep flock. Kale has been grown on the estate for many years but the limited range of herbicides means weeds such as fat hen and charlock are becoming harder to control. Agronomically, more weed control options are available for fodder beet and there are more options for utilising the crop – grazing in situ, lifting and feeding whole or chopping and feeding as part of a total mixed ration.

Fortimo had been the variety of choice for the past two seasons supplied by Watson Seeds. A high yielding, clean, red bulbed variety with the option of grazing and lifting. Dry matter yields of around 15-16%, with fresh weight yields estimated at 80t/ha (to be confirmed in near future).

There were few bolters with Fortimo, which is important to consider as the estate can get frosts well in to May.

Robert and Alan Lamont, Dunslaw Farm, Duns

The son and father team of Robert and Alan started to grow fodder beet as an important complement of their arable rotation.

In the past, they had grown Swedes but chemical control of weeds was a challenge. At the moment, the beet variety of choice would be Lactimo for its yield and dry matter %. The dry matter is an important consideration, as too high a dry matter will affect the utilisation by the lambs, yet too low and it will be more susceptible to frost damage.

In the photo are some of the 2500 Texel/Suffolk lambs – which are purchased in the Shetlands in mid-September at a weight of 30-35kg – which are destined to be marketed during March to April at a finished weight of 50kg.

John Scott, Fearn Farm, Tain

John Scott has always looked to maximising production of stock using home grown fodder crops and has in the past grown Swedes, stubble turnips and forage rape.

The attraction of fodder beet was that it could be grown on land previously used for oilseed rape, as it is not a brassica and therefore does not suffer from clubroot. The fodder beet is grown on some of the unit's medium and lighter soils, ensuring P, K and pH is appropriate for the crop, often using Calciprill to lift pH above their standard 6.3.

John started growing fodder beet in 2016 after hearing the success people were having growing the crop for both sheep and cattle in New Zealand. On the advice of Trevor Cook, from New Zealand, he could see no reason why he could not grow it successfully.

His beet is utilised by 3000 in-lamb ewes from January through until lambing, whilst 200 Luing/Shorthorn cross calves and R2 Luing heifers are fed from November through to April. The fodder beet is grazed mainly in the field, but if there is a surplus, it is lifted to supplement ewes and lambs at grass or in sheds.

“We have been delighted with the way stock perform on fodder beet, calves are healthy and grow reasonably well and once they hit grass they really motor having been on it for the winter. Ewes hold their condition well and twins go straight to grass to lamb after finishing the beet whilst singles and triplets come inside to lamb,” said Mr Scott.

Watson Seeds' Johnny Watson added: “Sowing a range of varieties from leading fodder beet breeders in Scotland and Northern England has given us a first-hand opportunity to have a proper look at the crops potential. Varietal choice is important.

"Factors such as dirt tare, percentage of bulb in the ground, bolting resistance are but a few of the important criteria. But, overall, the fodder beet crop has the potential to deliver a really big crop of high energy feed for the livestock sector,” he added.