Below is a list of the most commonly-asked questions about Milkbench+, on everything from how it came to be created, to what happens to the inputted data.
Most farmers already compare, or benchmark, their performance informally, such as comparing milk yields with neighbours to give them ideas for improving their own performance.
However, using Milkbench+ to compare a whole range of data with hundreds of other producers about every aspect of their production systems and costs, confidentially, helps farmers discover best practice and develop new techniques—and, crucially, can help increase profits.
Anything that can be measured can be benchmarked. This includes financial, technical (e.g. yield), environmental and other farming elements.
The area, however, which can often help make the biggest improvement to a farm’s bottom line is costs. For many farmers, being able to reduce these is the key to survival.
The Milkbench+ database is managed and maintained by named AHDB employees. Beyond these named individuals no one can have access to any farmer’s individual data without the farmer’s Farm ID number and Authorisation Code. Any consultant first needs to obtain this information, with the farmer’s permission, in order to have access to the data.
If consent has not been given then no information which can be used to identify individual farms will be made available to any third party.
Aggregated data is used for farmers to generate benchmark reports. Individual farm data will always be averaged over a sufficiently large number of farms (at least eight) so that no individual farm can be identified. Occasionally, Milkbench+ may wish to publish general press articles, e.g. on increasing vet and med costs over a particular period, which does not identify particular farmers. However, there are strict guidelines on what can be released into the public domain. Milkbench+ was designed as a benchmarking tool specifically for farmers and sensitive information will not be published in the public domain. It must be stressed that the onus is on farmers, who have the final say on who is allowed access to their individual information, to use their figures responsibly and to be aware of whom they are allowing access to their information.
Milkbench+ produces six cost cluster reports as follows:
- feed and forage costs
- labour costs (including variations for farmers' own labour, but not his/her management time)
- herd health and herd replacement costs
- machinery and power costs
- property, rent and financing costs
Once data for all these clusters, plus the key farm and output data cluster have been completed, Milkbench+ produces a Dairy Enterprise Costs report which provides a breakdown of all costs incurred in the production of milk as well a breakdown of dairy income. The dairy enterprise report calculates the total cost of milk production per litre of milk as well as the margin earned on each litre of milk after all inputs have been paid for. The net margin does not make an allowance for investment beyond capital replacement or the farmers’ own management income.
Farms are ranked in terms of percentages (i.e. in the top 10%, majority or average, or bottom 10%) based on where they feature compared with the farms in the sample, according to either total cost of milk production or net margin on milk production on a pence per litre basis. Milkbench+ allows farmers to choose the ranking criterion. Only farms that share the same financial year end are compared.
Averages are only visible where information has been entered. Therefore, the more information entered the more comprehensive the end report generated. Because Milkbench+ is a dairy-specific benchmarking system, non-dairy enterprises are left out of the report in order to keep it as relevant as possible.
Benchmarking your performance against others is extremely valuable. However, it is only the first step towards greater profitability. It should identify areas for potential improvement and lead you to a programme of actions.
A list of organisations, initiatives or sources of further help is available to farmers who complete the Milkbench journey, according to the region you live in:
Dairy Business Groups are business-focused discussion groups that carry out benchmarking activities (looking at both financial and physical factors of the business) discussing results and business solutions between participating farmers, with a view to improving profitability. Dairy Business groups are facilitated by regional AHDB Dairy extension officers: Planning for Profit workshops allow farmers to look in detail at their business. Starting with taking a strategic look at why you are in business, what your aspirations are through to the effects of nutrition and examining the effects of making fundamental changes to the dairy business structure.
Farmers can examine what will happen to their profit margins, capital investment required to make the changes and implement these changes with the help of a consultant delivery team.
There are also a range of publications, tools and services to aid with business decisions. Details of these can be found on the DairyCo website dairy.ahdb.org.uk or discussed with you by your regional AHDB Dairy extension officer.
Alternatively, you can contact DairyCo on 02476 478686.