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Ont. suggests set-aside sugar beets as feed

With Ontario’s sugar beet harvest unexpectedly yielding “more beets than can be reasonably processed,” the provincial ag department is now encouraging growers to consider a set-aside program option, including feeding whole beets to livestock.

Under such a program option, part of the crop would be left either unharvested or undelivered for processing.

Farmers planning to participate in the sugar beet set-aside “may be looking for alternatives such as harvesting the whole beets for use as a livestock feed,” the province said in a recent crop newsletter.

Several livestock producers in the province may have had experience with feeding processing byproducts from sugar beets, such as moist beet pulp, but not so much with feeding whole beets, the province said.

“The whole beets’ sugar content and their digestible fibre make them a good source of energy and have been successfully used in feeding ruminants, such as cattle and sheep,” OMAFRA byproducts feeding specialist Ron Lackey wrote.

“The feeding value of sugar beets could be considered similar to corn and cob meal with equivalent energy levels but with slightly lower protein than corn and cob meal.”

Storage challenges

The province warned that the high moisture levels (about 80 per cent) and relatively high sugar content of whole beets “can present storage challenges” but consultants suggest unprocessed beets may be stored in a pile with minimal spoilage until well into February.

But piled beets must be used up prior to warm weather in mid-March, as warm temperatures will cause “rapid decay” and “significant” nuisance insect problems will develop, Lackey wrote.

Ensiling processed beets, in combination with a dry ingredient such as straw, hay or corn stalks to achieve a final moisture level of 35-40 per cent can be a longer-term storage option. The pile should be packed and covered to exclude oxygen.

Siting temporary storage piles should be considered carefully, to minimize the potential for environmental contamination and general stink. Growers will have to monitor and prevent any potential runoff from reaching surface water bodies like streams, ditches and ponds, Lackey wrote.

Whole beets can be processed by various methods, he wrote, such as by running them through a forage harvester or a tub grinder; extended agitation in a total mixed ration (TMR) mixer; putting them through an industrial wood chipper; or even driving over them.

Cattle and sheep can consume unprocessed whole sugar beets, but to reduce the risk of smaller beets becoming lodged in animals’ throats and to make the beets easier to mix uniformly with other ingredients, sugar beets should be broken or processed prior to feeding, Lackey wrote.

Suggested ration inclusion rates are up to 20 per cent of the dry matter intake for backgrounding or growing cattle and up to 50 per cent of a beef cow’s dry matter intake. The beet tops can also be fed, but because the majority of the feed value is in the beet, it may be better to focus efforts on preserving and using the beet itself, he wrote, urging livestock producers to work on such rations with a qualified livestock nutritionist.

Pesticide restrictions

It’s important to know or find out which fungicide and/or herbicide was used with the sugar beet crop, Lackey warned, as there may be label restrictions regarding the use of sugar beets as a feed ingredient.

For example, he quoted the label on Tilt as stating “Do not graze or feed sugar beet tops treated with propiconazole to livestock,” while there are no restrictions on feeding the beet itself. The label on Senator 70W, for another, displays the warning “No sugar beets or parts of sugar beets are to be used as fodder or feed in Canada.” Headline “does not appear to have any feeding restrictions,” he wrote.

“The bottom line: check the label,” he wrote.

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