Planning and preparation crucial for beet success

Planning and preparation crucial for beet success

1 June 2017

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Careful planning and correct paddock preparation are two of the most important steps to a successful fodder or sugar beet crop.

When considering fodder beet in your rotation, it should follow a thorough paddock rotation with emphasis given to its nutrient status. Beet prefers a light to medium free-draining soil, but it can thrive in a range of soil types if they are reasonably well-drained and not acidic. A key issue for successful beet crops is pH level as beet does not like acidic soils. The pH level will need to be corrected early if there is an issue, ideally 12 to 18 months prior to the crop being sown.

The autumn prior to sowing, a soil test using a 150 millimetre (mm) probe should be carried out. This is the time to assess pH if the paddock status is unknown and lime should be applied as soon as possible if there is a pH deficiency. Aim for a pH of between 6.0 and 6.2. Magnesium can be applied at the same time.

As fodder beet is a specialist crop, it’s best to plan for the crop well in advance. If you’re including fodder beet in a cropping rotation on your farm, ensure the paddock history is known before planting because seedling beet can be susceptible to residual chemicals used on previous crops.

Never double-crop fodder beet as this can result in significant problems. Aim for a best practice of at least one in four year rotation between beet crops in a paddock and always use another species as a break crop.

Each soil type and climate will have specific guidelines regarding paddock preparation. Focus on optimising moisture retention in the seed bed, especially where the seed is placed. In most areas, a period of moisture build-up will be required to conserve moisture (fallow period) – either via sufficient fallow period or by irrigation.

A well-prepared seed bed is essential to establish the crop as evenly and as quickly as possible. Subsoils should be free of pans, and preferably subsoiled if compaction issues are suspected. A traditional deep plough is recommended, followed by multiple surface workings to help ensure there are no obstructions to root development and the surface is as fine and clod/clump free as possible. This helps ensure adequate seed-to-soil contact once drilled.

A firm, fine tilth is essential in successful establishment. Aim for the equivalent of a vegetable seed bed as a guide and apply base fertiliser prior to your last surface working of the paddock. It is recommended to give the paddock a light roll prior to planting to help ensure firmness of seed bed and seed-to-soil contact; generally, you should just be able to see your heel indent on the soil surface. As thorough weed control is vital for establishing beets, a poorly prepared seed bed will affect seedling emergence and therefore the subsequent chemical application timing.

It is crucial to monitor your field conditions as growing conditions can change leading up to the sowing season. Conditions are rarely uniform across an entire paddock, which is why thorough seed bed preparation is necessary so seed is planted into conditions that are as even as possible. When the paddock is in a prepared state it will be conserving moisture, and can wait until temperatures are adequate for planting. Waiting can also allow additional weed control prior to planting.

For more information on planning and paddock preparation for beet, talk to your local Fonterra Farm Source TSR or you can visit us in store today.

Article supplied by Seed Force