Key Take-A-Ways

  • Sugarbeets grown in winter on San Joaquin Valley dairy farms could reduce costs and maximize the value of feed produced with less available water.
  • Sugarbeet-almond hull silage created a high digestibility and high dietary net energy dairy feed that was readily consumed by cows.


To validate the use of sugarbeets as a winter forage crop for dairies, measure the nitrogen uptake and yields, and evaluate key quality aspects of sugarbeet roots co-ensiled with almond hulls.

Background, Findings, and Outcomes:

Sugarbeets were once widely grown in the San Joaquin Valley for sugar, and their byproducts—beet pulp and molasses—were used as dairy feeds. The last sugarbeet factory closed in the San Joaquin Valley 13 years ago, but sugarbeets could have an important role in the sustainability of California dairy rations and were investigated as a potential winter crop.

Sugarbeets have a high yield, use less water than competing summer crops, and produce a high-energy feed. Previous research on sugarbeets grown as a winter crop found they had relatively low production costs and higher yields than expected. This study continued this work and investigated the production capabilities of sugarbeet silage crops grown from October 2019 to June 2020, comparing them with other crop alternatives, with particular attention paid to the overall cost of production, water use, and nutrient management.

Beets are salt-tolerant and deep-rooted, and have shown the ability to use water and nutrients at depth in the soil profile. In this study, beets recovered water from up to six feet by harvest. Beets recovered on average approximately 260 lb. total N per acre in roots, and 370 lb. per acre in tops.

Sugarbeet silage provides a new opportunity to formulate dairy rations in California, complementing current winter cereal and summer corn silage production. Sugarbeets have a high level of dietary net energy (NE), digestible fibers and sugars, and provide rumen function benefits due to a reduced risk of acidosis and favorable fiber characteristics.

Beets were co-ensiled with almond hulls in Ag-Bags immediately after harvest in June 2020. Samples were collected at ensiling and as feeding occurred throughout the summer. Silage quality from the 2020 harvest was like that from 2019 despite differences in soil conditions, yield, and farm management. This is good news because it suggests a high likelihood that beet-almond hull silage quality will be consistent across farms and over time.

This high dietary energy winter crop uses less water than summer crops with equivalent feeding value and thereby extends limited irrigation supplies. The high feed quality of beet-almond hull silage, the ability of beets to be grown in winter with limited water, and the potential of beets to recover nutrients and water at greater depths than other crops indicate that sugarbeets could be an increasingly important crop in the San Joaquin Valley in future years.