THE TOP 12% of surveyed dairy herds in Northern Ireland produce a gross margin of 558/ha from their heifer-rearing enterprise compared with -31/ha for the bottom 10%.

The average is 278/ha, according to data released from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for Northern Ireland’s benchmarking survey. The survey used figures from 150 farms with annual management accounts for 2003/04.

It shows a big difference between poor and excellent farms, says DARD chief economist Stanley McBurney.

“The difference in peformance of these herds is due to a multitude of factors, such as feeding policy, age at first calving and the resources available.

“But the producers who can make the most use of this information are those who have farm management accounts. They can see how their business compares with others.”

Benchmarking allows producers to identify areas of poor performance, then take steps to improve, while better performers can see it as a morale booster for doing well, says Mr McBurney.

The figures have had direct subsidy payments removed to show performance under the single farm payment. “This shows whether it is a money-making enterprise, or would be better off using resources in some other way,” he adds.