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Chicory Growing in Favour as a Great Feed for Farmers

Waikato farmers are taking a shine to chicory as a supplementary feed crop, with seed sales reaching new levels this spring.

Ballance Agri-Nutrients and merchant partner RD1 are experiencing unprecedented interest in the crop, and are working on nutrient programmes best suited for the high-protein crop.

Anthony Spence, RD1 Category Manager, says RD1 chicory sales are up 18 percent year to date across New Zealand, but in the Waikato region chicory seed sales are 43 percent ahead of last year so far.

‘There was good growth last year as well, but we have seen a significant lift this year,’ says Mr Spence. ‘We are still seeing orders come in for chicory now and expect to finish the season in the Waikato region up 50 percent on last year.’

Hailed as a crop for three seasons, requiring a break from grazing through the winter only, chicory can be grazed for up to six years, but paddocks are typically returned to pasture after two years.

Warwick Catto, Head of Research and Environment at Ballance Agri-Nutrients, says the company’s Technical Sales Representatives in the Waikato especially have been fielding a lot more enquiries for fertiliser advice about chicory this spring, principally from dairy farmers.

‘There appears to be a move away from turnips this season,’ says Mr Catto. ‘Due to its performance in recent dry summers, farmers are seeing chicory as a better solution to feed through dry periods, which are not consistent in timing each year.

‘Chicory has a much deeper tap root system, enabling it to forage for water more effectively than turnips under drier soil conditions. This allows a supply of high-quality feed to be carried right though summer. In the summer droughts that we have seen in the past few years, chicory paddocks have stood out among the browned-off pastures due their persistent greenness.’

Also of note was chicory's ability to sequester high levels of trace elements, such as copper, which can be a valuable asset with regard to stock nutrition. Additionally, there is a growing recognition that chicory has a high level of metabolisable energy (ME), typically around 13 MJ/kg DM.

‘It’s also high in protein (23-24 percent). These characteristics help to make it a great feed for most stock types. It’s frequently used to boost the feed intake of dairy cows and is also great for finishing lambs.’

The surge in interest in chicory has encouraged Ballance to increase its focus on the precise nutrient requirements of the crop.

‘There is not a lot of really good scientific data relating to fertiliser requirements for chicory in New Zealand, and in theory chicory will require different nutrient requirements to turnips,’ says Mr Catto.

‘In general terms, all crops tend to respond the same; pH much be corrected to ensure that nutrient availability and soil microbial activity are optimised, fertiliser P is important for encouraging strong, vigorous establishment, while as the leaf canopy develops N and K are important to ensure the canopy “green leaf area” is maximised. However, the degree of response is different for different crops and that is what we are working on.

‘The danger is that farmers don’t feed chicory enough to get the yields talked about. Chicory’s got the potential to be very high yielding – up to 15 tonne DM/ha would be achievable on many farms, and with the right conditions, up to 20 tonne DM/ha is not out of the question.

‘To keep it growing, apply nitrogen regularly after grazing. Nitrogen is the key nutrient most likely to be yield limiting for chicory crops. If a crop yields 15 tonne DM/ha, that means 400-600 kg N/ha will be required by the crop from the soil and fertiliser inputs.

‘Land that has come out of long-term pasture will have good nitrogen reserves, but likely only enough to supply around half of what the crop requires. Therefore, applications of n-rich urea will still be needed. A good approach would be to apply 20-25 kg N/ha (about 50 kg n-rich urea/ha) after each grazing. This will stimulate leaf re-growth and help prevent weed ingression.’

ENDS

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