Establishing the radiation-use efficiency (RUE) of forage brassica crops will aid our understanding of their photosynthetic performance. The concept of RUE has been developed for cereals and legumes, but there is limited information for forage brassica crops. Three experiments defining the influence of different sowing dates on ‘Gruner’ kale (Brassica oleracea acephala L.) dry matter production were conducted at Hastings (Hawkes Bay) and Lincoln (Canterbury) in New Zealand between 2002 and 2009. These trials were also evaluated for radiation interception and RUE. Delayed sowing increased RUE in two out of three experiments across sites: from 1·93 g MJ−1 photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) for December-sown crops to 2·72 g MJ−1 PAR (P < 0·001) for January-sown crops at Hastings and from 1·50 for September-sown crops to 2·00 g MJ−1 PAR (P < 0·001) for November-sown crops at Lincoln. The different sowing dates and years of experimentation provided a range of mean temperatures (from 13 to 16°C) during the vegetative period. Across years and sowing dates, RUE was strongly correlated with mean temperature (R2 = 0·81) and sowing date (R2 = 0·64), but weakly correlated with season length (R2 = 0·11) and dry matter (R2 = 0·002). There was also a strong correlation (R2 = 0·83) between sowing date and mean temperature. The increase in RUE with delayed sowing was therefore mainly attributed to increased mean temperatures. Radiation-use efficiency increased at about 0·41 g MJ−1 for each 1°C increase from 13 to 16°C.