Production of sugar beets in California has all but disappeared over the past decade, however, the crop could provide dairy farmers with another option for nutritious forage. Researchers have been evaluating the crop with funding support from the California Dairy Research Foundation to determine the best practices for cultivation on dairy operations.
“The sugar beet yields in California are the highest in the world. It’s also known that fodder beets and their cousin sugar beets have very high nutritional value for dairy cattle, it’s been demonstrated in other locations,” said Steve Kaffka, Extension Specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. “It seems a natural opportunity for dairy producers to take a look at what would be a new crop for them.”
Growing sugar beets using recommended production practices can provide dairy farmers with another source of nutritional forage for dairy cows. Planting beets in mid-to-late fall allows for the best water use efficiency over winter and also minimizes pest and disease pressures when harvested by the end of June. The crop also has a number of qualities that bode well for production on dairy farms.
“Where soils have some salt issues or where salts have been built up over time through manure additions on farms, it will tolerate that quite well,” said Kaffka. “It’s deep-rooted, so it may be able to use water that’s lost by other crops and also some nutrients lost by other crops. So, it could be perhaps a good nutrient management tool for dairies.”
Sugar beet crops do not typically perform well when they are grown in succession. Kaffka suggests rotating other forage crops in between sugar beets to create optimum growing conditions. “I think a good rotation would be beets in the winter, followed by corn silage, followed by perhaps cereal silage, followed by corn silage, then beets again. That might work out quite well,” said Kaffka.