Derek McConachie

“When it comes to feeding out you have more crop and a better quality.”

Six years sitting in a tractor cab planting fodder beet taught Mokoreta sheep and beef farmer Derek McConachie a thing or two about its establishment.

“The paddock has to be worked up fine. When it’s sown out then put your spray over it. The spray contacts more of the dirt and you get better weed control. Better weed control means the better the beet will start growing. But not working up the paddock well enough at the start is a big mistake.”

Derek farms 2000 mixed age ewes and 130 trade cattle on 340ha near Wyndham. He says his years spent contracting fueled his interest in fodder beet and he often returned to crops he’d sown out just to see how it was growing. “I could see what worked and what didn’t.”

Derek used fodder beet on a previous farm at Lochiel to winter dairy heifers. When he bought the Mokereta farm three years ago he was keen to use fodder beet to break up the existing rotation. He couldn’t re-grass all his paddocks at once so staggered his approach and planted 9ha of SF Brigadier fodder beet in the first year.

Derek winters his ewes on the crop. He’s a great believer in making sure they get some green leaf every day and says after about 40 minutes of eating he notices the sheep sit down content. He supplement feeds with baleage but the sheep aren’t eating much of it when they’re on the SF Brigadier. “Bales go out when needed but the amount eaten is drastically reduced.”

Derek sows his SF Brigadier at 93,000 seeds per ha and his germination is getting better each year. Fodder beet is very sensitive to acid soils and the pH needs to be 6 to 6.5. Derek has put four tonne of lime on a third of his farm each year for the past two years in an effort to correct his levels. He suspects his next soil test will show it’s headed in the right direction.

Derek acknowledges fodder beet is a specialist crop that can be more expensive per ha to grow than other crops, but he says it can deliver outstanding results to offset this if grown and managed correctly. “When it comes to feeding out you have more crop and a better quality.”

And of course, Derek’s adamant that to achieve top results it starts with the soil cultivation. After thousands of hours in a tractor cab, he should know!

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