Farm Ireland

Friday 23 March 2018

Big interest in fodder beet but quality maize has no equal as a forage source

Gerry Giggins

I have referred to the merits of using fodder beet before. And going by the number of calls I received after doing so, the growing and feeding of fodder beet is about to receive a major lift. A lot of farmers are looking at using fodder beet as a direct replacement for forage maize.

But before this option is taken, a number of points need to be considered:

nBeet has a significantly different profile with higher sugar, while maize is high in starch.

nAfter harvest maize requires no further processing, unlike beet.

nThe harvest of maize in a wet autumn is less difficult.

High quality maize silage for finishing cattle has no equal as a forage source. With the correct site and variety selection, yields of up to 50t/ha can be achieved. Typical analysis of good quality maize silage is 28-32pc dry matter (DM), 11.0-11.5 MJ ME/kg DM, 28-32pc starch and 7-9pc crude protein.

As all energy feeds are projected to remain high in price for the foreseeable future, growing a crop that produces forage of this quality and at these yields continues to make a lot of sense. Maize also acts as a very suitable break crop.

Conditions for the 2012 maize crop were really difficult. It should have put an end to the debate over whether maize should be grown under plastic or in the open (without plastic).

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Yields obtained by crops grown under plastic were reduced by 30-40pc, but a significant amount of the crop grown without plastic failed.

Despite lower bulk yields the quality of maize in most cases was surprisingly good. This was in part due to the greater cob to leaf and stem ratio.

This type of maize silage is replacing up to 30pc of the concentrate requirement of a typical finishing animal.

One hectare of maize that achieves the yield of 50t/ha can supply the forage component in the diet of 25 finish animals.

Variety choice and sowing date will determine the harvest date and overall yield of the crop, especially when grown under plastic.

Early sowing is not advised as is sowing in the open because soil temperatures will generally not be high enough for germination and seedlings will be at risk from late frost.

Proven varieties such as Justina, Award and Benicia have stood the test of time and can be grown in a wide variety of conditions.

If you are contracting a grower to supply the crop, basic standards should be agreed upon. As the maximum energy and starch is desired, a 30pc starch and 30pc DM should be the target. A price of between €45-€50/t ex-field would be a fair price.

There is now greater flexibility in ensiling and storing forage maize. The use of individual compacted bales or a sausage-type (ag-bag) storage avoids the need for expensive conventional pit storage.

On recent visits to France and Greece I observed a lot of developments around whole-cob processing or ground ear maize (GEM).

Different varieties are stripped of their ears at harvest and the cobs processed and ensiled. Some crops are alkaline treated to increase protein and significantly raise pH. Energy levels of 12.7MJ ME/kg DM, starch of 56pc, DM exceeding 55pc and pH of 8.8 are common.

In France, this is being fed to rose-veal calves at up to 80pc of their dry matter requirement. I think this system has huge potential in Ireland. A number of growers have produced GEM and it has proved to be a cost-effective substitute for expensive concentrate feed.

Every ruminant nutritionist's first-choice forage would be high quality maize due to the very positive effects it has on all livestock.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist with Keenan's. Email:

Irish Independent