In order to become more sustainable, farmers must be more efficient, and one of the best ways of monitoring and improving a farm’s efficiency is through benchmarking.
Benchmarking provides you with the opportunity to take a really close look at your farm’s performance and compare with others year-on-year.
It allows you to see where things can be improved or where you are already ahead of the game.
Clare Hill, of FAI Farms, regularly benchmarks the organisation’s own farm and says the old adage of ‘if you do not measure, you cannot manage’ continues to ring true.
She says: “If a farm is to be more efficient, it has to make better use of resources such as labour, fuel and feed.
If all of these things are used in a better way, the farm will become more efficient and will be more sustainable by its very nature.
“But you do not manage these areas, you cannot improve on them.”
Mrs Hill, who is farm manager for the 486-hectare (1,200-acre) FAI Farm, Oxfordshire, supporting a 900-ewe sheep flock, 80-head suckler herd and 2,400 free range laying hens, admits farmers are often put off benchmarking by the belief it will be a time-consuming and laborious process.
However, she says if producers do not want to embark on a full, detailed benchmarking exercise, they should consider looking at a couple of key areas they would like to concentrate on.
She says: “If you find benchmarking onerous, start by breaking it down into smaller areas and pick out one or two issues you would like to try and improve.
“Here at FAI Farm, rather than trying to do a full benchmarking study where we need to put every figure in, I will pick out areas which my instinct has already told me we need to improve.
“For example, we know the best performing farms are putting their heifers to the bull at 14 months to ensure they are calving about the two-year-old mark, so I look at how we are performing in that area and see where we need to make improvements to hit that target for our farm.”
She says it is important to keep looking at areas which require attention, as these change over time and in different circumstances.
“It is important to set realistic targets for your farm, backed up by using data to show where your current performance is.
By tackling issues one at a time, you will make a step in the right direction.”
“The Sustainable Beef Network aims to provide the tools and insights to deliver on sustainability goals"
The pressures on the beef supply chain are well-documented and UK beef farmers need to arm themselves with information to tackle these challenges.
To support its farmers in collectively responding to these issues, McDonald’s has partnered with data analysis expert, Map of Ag, on a project which aims to help drive positive change on beef farms in the UK and Ireland.
Vivienne Harris, of Map of Ag, explains the Sustainable Beef Network (SBN) project collects information from farms’ existing data sources, combines it with other information, and presents each farm with a measure of sustainability against economic, environmental and ethical indicators (the three Es).
Ms Harris says: “Farming today is data-rich.
There has never been a time when farms and farm equipment have generated so much data, and this is down to the rapid development and adoption of new technologies on-farm.
By embracing innovative technology and data, agriculture has the opportunity to become far more sustainable, efficient and productive.”
Ms Harris says the project has benefits to the individual farmer and the industry as a whole: “The project links all the different information sources from the farm together.
The ultimate aim is to provide information which allows individual farmers to make better informed, more timely decisions.”
As well as providing farm-specific information so the farmer can see how the business is performing within in its own parameters, it also provides benchmarking data highlighting farm performance within the project’s group.
And Ms Harris says the project can also be beneficial for the beef sector as it strives to provide tangible measures and proof of sustainability.
She says: “Beef sustainability is a hot topic and the collection of farm data has a key role to play in supporting the industry with its challenges around this area.
In addition to the value created on individual farms, the SBN also aims to provide the tools and insights to deliver on sustainability goals which have been established by the European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability.”