Fodder Beet

We grow fodder beet here on the farm as a feed for the cattle.

Fodder beet is a similar plant to the more commonly seen sugar beet plant.  The sugar content is lower, but the yield per acre is typically somewhat higher.  Sugar beet growers may typically expect to grow between 20 and 30 tonnes per acre, whereas fodder beet typically yields between 25 and 40 tonnes per acre (although it may be slightly lower in dry matter). 30 plus tonnes per acre is quite common and 40 tonnes per acre is quite achievable given a good soil type and ample summer rainfall.

There are different varieties of fodder beet that have different characteristics.  Generally speaking there are red or orange coloured varieties which tend to be slightly softer and also tend to grow further out of the ground.  These varieties may be suitable for grazing by sheep or feeding whole to sheep and cattle without chopping the roots.  Another advantage is that less soil will cling to the beet if it is harvested with a machine.  One disadvantage of these varieties is that they tend to be more susceptible to frost as they are growing more out of the ground and they are also softer varieties.

There are also white varieties of fodder beet.  Some of these have the tendancy to grow deeper into the ground, be higher in dry matter, and also be harder. This gives them more frost protection.  They can usually withstand frosts of minus 5 degrees C without too much damage.  These harder beets can also have better storing capabilities when harvested and kept in a clamp.  They normally require chopping for cattle to eat these harder roots.

We have tended to grow the white beet on our farm.

Fodder beet will usually store in a clamp (heap, protected from frost with straw bales – in the UK) until the end of April. Some growers will place the retaining bales of straw on pallets to aid air flow into the clamp to help keep the beet cool and facilitate longer storage periods.

We put air ducts under the clamp towards the back of the heap, so we can ventilate with a fan to keep the temperature of the beet correct.  This can lead to much longer storage and less deterioration.

The cattle really like to eat the beet.  It can raise dry matter intake and reduce the amount of barley we need to feed.  Protein content is, however, lower than barley so this needs to be accounted for.  We feed the beet to both growing and fattening cattle and to the suckler cows.  The suckler cows get low quality silage plus some beet.  The amount of beet we feed to the sucklers depends on their condition score and if we are trying to get the cows to increase of decrease their condition.

Grass Weed Control In Cereals

Certain grass weeds are becoming a very big problem for UK farmers in arable rotations.  This is due to a combination of reasons which is providing the ‘perfect storm’ for their proliferation.

Most farmers are experiencing this to some degree, although certain farming systems and soil types create the correct conditions for grass weeds to multiply.

The most common species to cause problems for the arable farmer are black grass, bromes, ryegrass and wild oats.  The problem is getting worse and so I am going to discuss the probable reasons for this and what we are doing about it on our farm.


Reasons For Grass Weed Proliferation

On many farms the rotation hasn’t changed for a number of years, but the problem has got much worse over the past few years.  So what has changed?

Certain key herbicides have had their licences revoked.  This has led to a reliance on fewer herbicides which may not be as effective or this may lead to resistance and so worse control.  Resistance to Atlantis is certainly evident, which used to give good post emergence control of blackgrass in wheat.

There has been a trend towards non-inversion tillage by farmers in an effort to cut crop establishment costs.  This can bring certain benefits to the soil, but does usually result in a greater number of grass weed seeds germinating and growing in the crop.

We have seen some wetter weather over recent years and many farm drainage systems have come to the end of their lives creating wetter soils which create conditions conducive to grass weed growth.


Situation On Our Farm

Approximatey 60 percent of our farm is of a medium to heavy soil type which we farm with autumn sown crops.  The reason for this is that crop establishment and yields are more consistent than spring cropping on this type of land.

However, we aren’t too bad for grass weeds.  We have one particularly bad patch of black grass that is about the size of a tennis court.  For the past 4 or 5 years we have worked at erradicating this patch. The black grass population has reduced in this patch, but we haven’t got rid of it as yet.  We have sprayed tank mixes of pre-emergence herbicides in the autumn with reasonable effect, but far from total control.  We have used Atalantis, but this is becoming less effective.  We have sprayed remaining plants off with glyphosate in the crop just as the seed heads have formed. We have hand rogued any remaining plants on the outer edges of the patch.  This strategy is working, but we are still not rid of this patch and it looks like it may take a few years yet to erradicate it altogether.

When beans or oilseed rape are grown in the field there are some different herbicides available, but we are finding that they are not as effective as they once were.  We pay close attention to the correct water volumes, nozzle choice and weather conditions when applying agrochemicals so they are applied in the most effective way.

The rest of the farm is relatively free of black grass, although it is in low populations across all the winter cropping soils.  I walk every field each year and hand rogue any plants.  This is hard and tedious work.  In a typical 15 acre field I would expect to pull about 20 plants that the herbicides haven’t contolled.  I think this is time well spent, as the populations can quickly increase and we could soon get into the situation like we did with the small tennis court sized patch.

If I see a black grass plant in the crop when I am travelling through with the crop sprayer I stop, get out of the tractor and pull the offending plant and remove it from the field.  When ever I pull a blackgrass plant I carry it off the field just in case any of the seeds have set.


Why Black Grass

You will notice that I have been talking about black grass, and haven’t really touched on the bromes, ryegrass, wild oats, annual meadow grass or any others.  These are all problematic weeds to the arable farmers, but black grass is potentially by far the worst.

Black grass plants are extremely prolific in their seed setting and shedding, typically shedding 1000 – 2000 seeds per plant.  The seeds are also usually shed before harvest, so no seeds are removed by the harvesting procedure.  This is not the case for wild oats or brome, where a certain proportion of the seed is harvested by the combine and removed from the field and many less seeds are produced per plant.

The heavier the soil type the more moisture retentive it tends to be, which is not only the best conditions for grass weeds to grow, but also the least conducive to spring cropping (spring cropping can be  good for black grass reduction as the weed doesn’t tend to germinate in spring.  Heavier soils are also more difficult to create a fine seed bed, this can lead to a lower germination rate of the crop and hence less crop competion against the weeds.  Any large clods can weather down with rain and then weed seeds can germinate with no chemical layer in place to kill them.

As our farm is currently 250 acres it is possible for me to walk the crops and rogue the few plants that are there.  Obviously this isn’t so easy on much larger farms, as there is only a few weeks to walk the crops and remove the weeds.  As soon as the populations start to get too high then hand weeding isn’t an option anyway.


Precision Control

One future control measure that some larger farms may be able to employ is precision mapping of the weed patches via GPS.  Once identified it would be possible to adjust herbicide concentrations in these areas, patch spray glyphosate and patch cultivate to reduce the populations.

These are weeds which start in patches before spreading across the field, so precision farming methods would work well.  Systems are already in development to identify and map the weeds.



We hope to eradicate the single patch of black grass within the next few years by continually working on it.  This season the wheat in that field was sprayed pre-emergence, but we still had a few plants.  We decided not to spray with Atlantis, as we thought we could pull them by hand and didn’t want to add to the resistance problem.  There were approximately 100 plants when I pulled them in mid May.  I will keep going back to see if any more plants become visible through late may and June.

It will be an ongoing practice to hand rogue all the fields.

We will continue to use a plough based cultivation stategy in most situations.  We believe there may be a place for some non-inversion crop establishment as an aid to keeping burried seeds down for an extra season.  Normally this would be when oilseed rape is established.

Non-inversion establishment on our soils later in the autumn have given variable results so we don’t see it as been useful on our farm for the wheat or barley drilling.  It can give better seed to soil contact than ploughing and retain moisture and germination rate in a dry time, but it has also tended to increase the chances of winter waterlogging compared to ploughing.

We have grown spring beans for the past two seasons which will help with control.  We have also introduced grass silage leys into the arabe rotation.  Any grass weeds are mown and harvested in the silage before they seed.

Ourselves and other farmers need to be aware of the spread of grass weeds from farm to farm through combine harvesters.  There is a tendancy for farmers to rely more on contractors or to share combine harvesters, so this is a path for spreading the weed seeds.  We own our own combine, but we do do some contracting work with it.  If we were to go to another farm that had a grass weed problem we would cut the problem areas first and then finish off in the cleaner part of the crop so that the inside of the combine would be relatively clean before returning back to our farm.  We would refuse any contracting work in fields with bad black grass populations. We are also cautious to not import any manures as we would not know if the bedding straw had been full of grass weed seeds.

These all seem like quite fastidious management decisions, but we believe they are worthwhile.  There are few, if any, new herbicides currently in development and we could loose some more of the actives that we have available.  Therefore, the situation could get more difficult.


UK Fertiliser Prices

Ammonium Nitrate fertiliser prices have stayed firm at £390/tonne through December of 2008.  It is not surprising to hear that fertiliser traders and manufacturers are advising farmers to continue buying to secure supplies – well of course it’s not surprising, they are trying to sell as much product as possible before the price crashes!

Ian Moseley (fertiliser manager for Wynnstay) was quoted in the Farmer’s Weekly as saying “Although the price of urea has collapsed, ammonium nitrate has stayed firm at £390/tonne for December.”  And saying of urea prices “It’s dependent on the Asian markey, which usually starts buying in January”.  He warned that if farmers delayed purchases, there was a danger that farmers could be left waiting for deliveries in spring, and talking of delivery said “If this suddenly gets pushed into February, then there won’t be enough stock or sufficient transport facilities to meet demand”.

Well it is the view of Farmingfriends that any fertiliser manufacturer or trader should take a beginners course in economics – simple supply and demand economics suggest that fertiliser manufacturers will have been producing product to maximum capacity to try and capitalise on the grain price 5 months ago.  Now that the global grain price has fallen to less than half what it was at its peak, then demand for fertiliser will also fall.  The fall in demand will be compounded by the fall in oil price, meaning that oilseeds will be in lower demand for biodiesel production (reducing fertiliser demand).

Farmers will look to reduce fertiliser application rates in the spring, possibly by as much as 25%.  We all know that ammonium nitrate doesn’t store well from one seaon to the next, so if manufacturers do not move product in spring 2009, they will be left with deteriorating stock.

So the prediction is that prices will fall for AN as they have done with urea due to falling demand, falling oil prices (reducing production costs and demand) and stockpiles of product at plants, docks and distribution warehouses.

The supply industry has been feeding the media, scaring farmers into making purchases at inflated prices since early summer, which can only be described as underhand – as they must have seen the price falls coming.  On this farm we predicted what was happening and have not bought any fertiliser yet for 2009.  It is clear that any farmers who haven’t yet purchased will be holding out for an avalanche of price falls.  We expect ammonium nitrate prices to fall below £200/t and comparing historic nitrogen and grain prices we could even see nitrogen sub £130.

The best price will come to those who wait!

Arable Crops Glossary

Arable Crops Definitions

  • Arable Farming – The production of crops.
  • Barley – A cereal crop grown mainly for malting and as an animal feed.
  • Biodiesel – Fuel that has been produced using crops.
  • Blight – A potato disease.
  • Buteric Silage – Silage that is too wet and does not ferment properly.
  • Canola – The American name for oilseed rape, an arable crop grown for the extraction of oil from the seeds.
  • Chlorophyll – The green pigment in leaves.
  • Chloroplasts – The leaf cells in plants.
  • CO2 – The chemical formula for Carbon Dioxide.
  • Dehusked – To remove the outer layer on grain.
  • H2O – The chemical formula for Water.
  • Hay – A mature grass that has been cut and allowed to dry in the field.
  • O2 – The chemical formula for Oxygen.
  • Oats – A cereal crop grown for animal feed and for cereal foods for human consumption.
  • Oilseed Rape – An arable crop, also known as canola, grown for the extraction of oil from the seeds.
  • Photosynthesis – The food making process of a plant which takes place in the leaf.
  • Potato Cyst Nematode – A soil borne pest that affects the potato crop.
  • Potatoes – An arable crop and root vegetable grown for human consumption.
  • Silage – Grass that has been preserved by pickling rather than drying.
  • Wheat – A cereal crop grown for animal feed and for the production of flour.

Potato Varieties Grown On The Farm

There are many varieties of potatoes which are grown for different reasons.

Soilman asked, “What varieties do you grow?”

The potato varieties we have grown on the farm over the years are:

  • Hermes – these potatoes have been grown for a merchant that sells the potatoes for crisping.
  • King Edward – these potatoes have been sold to the public for consumption as mash, chips or roast potatoes.
  • Cara – these are table potatoes and have been sold to the public.
  • Russet Burbank – these potatoes were grown to make chips.
  • Cultra – these potatoes were grown for the table.
  • Record – these potatoes have been grown for making crisps.
  • Estima – these table potatoes have been sold to the public.
  • Desiree – these are potatoes that are grown for the table.

If you are wanting to grow potatoes in your vegetable garden then visit TopVeg for excellent potato growing advice.

Grading Potatoes

The potato harvest has begun for our farm this week and so I am now grading potatoes. This means that once the potatoes are lifted from the field, they are then tipped from the trailer onto a conveyor belt that allows us to grade the potatoes by picking out the following items;

  • Stones,
  • Mud,
  • Weeds,
  • Grass,
  • Foreign objects,
  • Rotten potatoes,
  • Green potatoes,
  • Mis-shaped potatoes,
  • Largest potatoes,
  • Smallest potatoes.

Although grading potatoes can be a little bit monotonous for some people, the conversation at our grader is certainly entertaining. I suggested that I tape the conversations and include them on my website as a podcast or should I say “potato-cast”!!!

Naming Arable Crops Contest

What is an arable crop?

An arable crop is a plant (cereal, fruit or vegetable) that is cultivated for food or other uses, on ploughed land.

How many arable crops can you name? Can you name 30 or more?

Have a go at naming arable crops in the contact form below and the reader who names the most will win a prize. As contestants enter I will let you know the score to beat. You may enter more than once if you wish! Enter by filling in your name, email address and listing all the arable crops you can name. Good Luck. Score to beat is…….33.


Click on the image below to visit to find out more about this book or visit one of the Farming Friends Bookshops.

British Field Crops: A Pocket Guide to the Identification, History and Uses of Traditional and Novel Arable Crops in Great Britain





Barley Harvest Completed


Barley In The Field

Barley In The Field

The barley has been successfully harvested this year and the grain is safely stored in the new grain store.


Barley Grain In Storage

Barley Grain In Storage

Our Winter barley had a good harvest but the Spring barley was more difficult this year.

Wheat Harvest Finished

Wheat in field 

The wheat has been successfully harvested this year and the grain is safely stored in the new grain store.

Wheat in storage

It has been reported that the yields are down nationally, but our wheat yields are reasonable this year, although there is a problem with the straw staying green.

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The Wheat Is Ripe But The Combine Is Broken

We were able to harvest some more of the oilseed rape on Wednesday but we still haven’t finished as the remaining areas are still too wet for the combine to travel.  The combine repeatedly got stuck but we were able to ‘dig it out’ with a spade and by jolting it backwards and forwards we would get the machine out and have an attempt in another area of the field.  Steady progress continued until 7.30pm when we got stuck once more.  I gave the engine full throttle and tried to reverse out of the mud to the sound of a huge crack and the combine slumped over to the left.  I immediately knew what had happened -the axle/reduction gearbox hub had snapped and the wheel had fallen off and was now trapped under the frame of the combine.

Combine Harvester Stuck In Oilseed Rape Field

Having only harvested 5 acres since the last disaster with the unloading spout we were now broken down again – and in glorious harvesting weather.  We’d all had enough that night and called it a day.  I went spraying potatoes at 6.30 on Thursday morning and then loaded the Land Rover up with blocks of wood and hydraulic jacks ready to try and repair the wheel hub.  Luckily we found a second hand hub about 30 miles away which we had to remove from a fire damaged combine before returning home with it.  We had to place the wooden blocks under the front axle and then dig out the soil from under the wheel to relieve the weight of the combine that was resting on the wheel.  The wheel came out relatively easily and so the next job was to jack the combine up so that the new hub and the wheel could be refitted.  The wooden blocks were continually sinking into the soil because the machine had got stuck in a ‘wet hole’ in the field.  After several attempts of jacking and then chocking we were able to get the combine to a height at which the wheel could be refitted.  The wheel and the hub are both very heavy so we needed to use the forklift which was also sinking in the wet soil.

Harvest recommenced at 4pm after another hard day’s work of repairs.  The forklift, wooden blocks, tools, chains, straps and the old wheel hub were abandoned there in the field while we moved onto the next (hopefully drier) field.  The combine was altered to harvest wheat and we got started about 5pm and by 8pm the 8 acre field was completed.  The grain was 14.7% moisture which is dry enough to put into the grain store without having to dry it down any further.  Hopefully the wheat harvest will continue on Friday and we keep our fingers crossed that there are no more mechanical problems.

Written by Steve @ Farming Friends 

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