Dairy co-op First Milk has unveiled a free benchmarking programme to help its members reduce costs and produce milk more efficiently.

The First Milk Academy will encourage members to compare feeding efficiency, fixed and variable costs and herd fertility through local academy business clubs.

First Milk farmer director Tom Campbell said:

“There can be huge differences in profitability between farms of roughly equivalent sizes and yet between us we already have the best solutions, we just need to become better at sharing knowledge.

“The problem is that dairy farmers are busy, they don’t know what they don’t know.”

The eight existing business clubs in England would rise to 11, with new ones formed in Scotland and Wales, he said.

Members will receive a monthly bulletin from the academy and its four partner organisations.

The Rumans nutritional service will look at feed conversion efficiency and data supplied by the National Milk Register will allow clubs to look critically at herd fertility.

The co-op has also teamed up with consultant Promar International and the Kingshay Dairy Manager to offer fixed and variable cost analysis, while Linking Environment and Farming will champion best practice in farming.

“The idea is to stimulate debate among members and allow them to share skills and information,” said Mr Campbell.

Members could also take up a more formal professional development course through the Royal Agricultural College, the Scottish Agricultural College or Gelli Aur in Wales, he added.

Nick Everington, chief executive of the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, supported the move.

“There are still huge differences in efficiency and profitability in dairy farms, and anything that can be done to reduce that is worthwhile.

But the bigger issue at the moment is still the price of milk.”

Although First Milk said its new scheme was unique in the industry, other co-ops said they offered their members similar ways to improve their businesses.

Milk Link’s Will Sanderson said:

“We already have initiatives in place to help members share best practice and improve business management, working with the Milk Development Council and nutritionist Keenan, and these have been running for over a year.”

Benchmarking is also being adopted by the processing sector.

Dairy UK has just launched its Programme of Manufacturing Excellence to allow companies to use a special business diagnostic tool developed with help from the London Business School.

The first firm to benefit from the £470,000 DEFRA-funded programme was Milk Link Cheese in Oswestry, Shropshire.

Places in the programme were limited, said Dairy UK’s Jim Begg.

ian.ashbridge@rbi.co.uk