27 Aug 2014

Beet crop 'revolution' for beef farmers

5:15 pm on 27 August 2014

The growth in the use of fodder beet as a forage crop in the beef industry has been so rapid, that seed supplies for the coming growing season are expected to run out.

Fodder beet is a bulb crop related to beetroot (pictured) but can grow to huge sizes.

Fodder beet is a bulb crop related to beetroot (pictured) but can grow to huge sizes. Photo: PHOTO NZ

That is the prediction from Dr Jim Gibbs, a senior lecturer in livestock health and production at Lincoln University, who has done years of research on feeding cattle on what has become a revolutionary crop in this country.

Fodder beet is a bulb crop related to beetroot but can grow to huge sizes.

Dr Gibbs' work was initially for the dairy industry, but the demand for fodder beet really exploded when he introduced it to the beef industry, and he says it has become the fastest growing forage crop by a long shot.

"(It's) the first probably real revolution in feeding beef and finishing beef cattle in a generation. Six years ago, there was less than 500 hectares in the country. This season just finished, there were 15,000 hectares. Our best estimates, on the trajectory for booked seed already for next year, is it will be the first year in history we actually run out of seed and can't service it, so it may well be 30,000 hectares."

Dr Gibbs said beef farmers took notice after feeding trials with steers provided by a prominent Canterbury beef farmer, Brent Fisher at Silverstream Charolais, and a group of Banks Peninsula farmers.

Those cattle reached acceptable carcass weights at 14 to 16 months, compared with the 26 to 36 months it normally takes.

"The next iterations of the work in Silverstream this year - 400-plus steers and we've got the most recent results in. Right through the winter, they've been doing better than a kilo liveweight a day. That is extraordinary in terms of calf liveweight gains over a winter period. And our upper weight group at the moment, they have an average weight of 420 kilogrammes, which is just extraordinary."

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