How a Cornish dairy farm uses business accounts data for benchmarking

Data from his own and other farm businesses is helping Cornish dairy farmer Philip Ward make informed decisions.

Mr Ward milks 130 cows at Tempellow Farm near Liskeard and contributes to the Farm Business Survey (FBS – see details below).

“I send information from my Promar Farm Business Accounts package to FBS. They standardise it to make all the information comparable. I then receive a copy of the standardised accounts with comments, which is useful,” he says.

The comments put changes in inputs in perspective and show the impact on different areas of the accounts.

As well as comments on the performance of the sector in general, the reports pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of the individual business in the context of top 25% performance/cow and /litre.

See also: Dairy farmers urged to scrutinise milk contracts

Mr Ward says the reports allow him to benchmark and compare profitability and output not only with other dairy farms similar to his 81ha owner-occupied holding, but also on a more strategic basis with different types of farm business, to assess whether he is committing his resources to the right enterprises.

Tempellow Farm – data for decision making

  • Contributes to and uses Farm Business Survey to monitor and compare business performance
  •  Farm accounts on Promar’s Farms Business Accounts
  • Margins benchmarked monthly on The Dairy Group’s MCi service  
  • Herd records (for example, calving, drying off, service dates, fortnightly vet visits, medicine recording) on NMR Interherd
  • Field records (for example, fertiliser, slurry, lime, soil analysis, reseeding) kept on home-made spreadsheet – packages have been tried but proved too time-consuming and complicated
  • Many water meters positioned around the farm to check for leaks and monitor use – recorded manually


The accounts information also goes to consultancy The Dairy Group to be included in its MCi monthly margin benchmarking system.

For practical production planning and costing, the information Mr Ward gets back from this helps him to benchmark and set targets for improvement.

Most recently, assessing the cost of marginal milk production has been the focus.

“For example, when the milk price goes down, we want to reduce the marginal feed rate to get those extra litres and this helps us calculate how much those marginal litres will cost to produce, it helps us set a target and to monitor how we’re doing against that target.

“The comparative data allows you to judge what’s likely to happen if you reduce the feed rate. It’s more accurate than just relying on what’s happened in the past – you can get more [of an] idea of the likely result and have confidence in your target. It also allows you to be more self-critical.  

“It’s even more important to have information like this when milk prices are more volatile, as they have been.”

Farm Business Survey

  • The FBS collects farm management accounts data from individual businesses through the universities of Nottingham, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and Reading, as well as Askham Bryan and Duchy Colleges.
  • The FBS is conducted on behalf of Defra to provide information on the physical and economic performance of farm businesses in England, to inform policy decisions affecting farm businesses.
  • It is free and offers farm benchmarking, regional reports, enterprise reports and an online farm costings projection calculator.
  • FBS is at Rural Business Unit, University of Cambridge, 19 Silver Street, CB3 9EP, UK. Telephone 01223 337 166 or email

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