Rovey’s production costs on the 38-acre beet parcel totaled about $100 per dry ton of feed (about $25 wet ton), based on the 49-tons-per-acre beet yield. The yield was much more than his 30-31 tons per acre average for corn silage.

His beet production costs are about one-third to two-thirds less compared to corn silage.

“We’ve significantly beaten our corn silage tonnage so beets appear to be a natural way to achieve a cheaper, high quality feed for dairy cows,” Rovey said.

The dairyman plans to replace some corn and sorghum silage acreage and alfalfa ground with beets.

According to Rovey, beets require less nitrogen (N) and water to grow than corn silage. Reduced N is possible as the beet root tunnels down about 5-6 feet down in the soil. The root fractures the hardpan to gain access to N which most other crops cannot reach.

Water use in Rovey’s beet field with loam soil was about 3.4 acre feet; about one-third of the water needs for corn silage.

Rovey’s plant stand was about 60,000 plants per acre. The seeding rate was 0.60 units per acre.

So far, Rovey has not seen pest threats at an economic threshold to warrant a spray. He sprayed twice with Roundup for weed control. An unexpected outbreak of powdery mildew was managed with two sprays of sulfur.

Beets, in general, are a salt tolerant crop.

Looking five years out, Rovey hopes to grow 700-800 acres of beets; 300 acres for his own cow herd and the balance to sell to local dairymen.

Rovey concluded, “I think beets will be a huge opportunity to make the dairy industry more viable.”

Are there drawbacks to beets for livestock producers? Unlike dried alfalfa and corn, the beet is a perishable crop. The beet can remain in its whole form for several weeks but then must be stored or fed.

What do other dairymen think about beets? New Mexico dairymen Loren and Rebekah Horton traveled about 360 miles to attend the field day. The Horton’s milk Holstein cows and grow about 7,000 acres of crops.

“Everything I’ve seen today is fantastic,” Horton said.

He wonders if beets can be grown with drip irrigation.

 “If we can make beets work with drip, I think beets could be a home run for us.”

cblake@farmpress.com

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