Sugar beets are being researched at UGA as a possible feed source for dairy cattle

Sugar beets are being researched at UGA as a possible feed source for dairy cattle.

Could sugar beets become a dairy feed alternative?

Sugar beets could be a feed option for cattle. Cows like the beets, and they are easily digestible and can be used as an energy source, says a Georgia dairy nutrition specialist.

Sugar beets could be a feed option for cattle. Cows like the beets, and they are easily digestible and can be used as an energy source, says a Georgia dairy nutrition specialist.

“That’s what made it a target of interest here. Feeding whole sugar beets is something new that could be used on a large scale,” said John Bernard, dairy cattle specialist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Bernard started researching alternative feed sources in 2012 in response to high corn prices of $7 to $8 a bushel. At those high costs, feeding corn to cattle is economically unsustainable over the long haul, Bernard says. Finding an alternative feed source for dairy cattle was imperative.

“Having alternatives gives us additional risk management options for controlling costs, and frees up corn for other uses,” he said.

Sugar beets are a viable option because they are digestable. Bernard said nearly 80 percent of the beet is moisture. The remaining material contains between 17 and 18 percent sugar and 8 percent protein.

Further, growing sugar beets allows farmers to add diversity to their portfolio of commodities. Sugar beets require less fertilizer and loosen the soil as they grow.

“Producers can do this locally and it works out well because beets grow in the wintertime, which works out well in the cropping scenario,” Bernard said. “It’s attracted quite a bit of interest.”

While more research is needed, Bernard has high hopes for whole sugar beets becoming a new feed alternative for dairy cattle.

“We hope to have more information so we can help producers know how to better store the beets once they process them, how to put them in rations to use them as an alternative feed and energy source, and how to help them control costs and give them more options,” he said.

Bernard says Southern farmers are hesitant to make the feeding switch now, when corn prices are at an affordable price of $3.30.

“It all depends on what will happens in the short term and long term with corn prices and corn availability,” Bernard said. “It is a good option for folks to look at and consider using.”

Georgia’s dairy industry generates $338 million annually in farm gate value.

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