Welsh livestock survey shows gap between best and average farms

Major differences in profitability – up to £911/ha on lowland dairy units and £263/ha on hill cattle and sheep farms – are highlighted between the average and top-performing farms in the latest Welsh Farm Business Survey.

Aberystwyth University conducted the 2013-14 survey across a random sample of 511 farms across Wales.

After rent and finance charges were deducted, results showed the average profit a hectare for hill cattle and sheep farms was £153/ha compared with £416/ha for the top third of producers – a variation of £263/ha.

See also: Focus on margins to beat beef and sheep volatility

For hill sheep farms the difference was £172/ha – the average profit was £122/ha compared with £294/ha for the best performers.

On upland cattle and sheep farms the average profit level was £207/ha, compared with £477/ha at the top end, a £270/ha difference. On lowland cattle and sheep holdings the average profit was £303/ha, against £583/ha for the top third of producers — £280/ha higher.

At £810/ha, the average profit on hill and upland dairy farms was £881/ha lower than the £1,691/ha made by the top-end milk producers, while lowland dairy profits were on average £957/ha and £1,868/ha at the upper end – a difference of £911/ha.

Gross margins for the average hill sheep flock was £19.37 a ewe and £43.11 a ewe at the top end, £40.32 a ewe on average for upland flocks, against £71.67 for the top producers. In lowland flocks, the average gross margin was £48.70 a ewe against £72.19 a ewe for the top one-third.

Returns for lowland suckler cows were £470 a cow on average and £846.66 for the top producers, £357.94 a cow on average and £600.06 for the best upland farms, with £334.10 a cow being the average and £569.29 a cow the top rating on hill suckler farms.

The average gross margin a cow on hill and upland dairy farms was £1,061.93, against £1,497.46 at the top end, and £1,113.65 on average and lowland dairy farms, rising to £1,521.34 a cow for the top one-third performing herds.

Tony O’Regan, director of the survey, said the results had highlighted significant differences between the average and best-performing farms.

But he warned  the results did not take account of the cost of a farmer’s labour and the absence of this could present a false picture of the economics of production.

“The dairy sector best illustrates this since labour and pension costs alone can add about 6.7p/litre, pushing the top producers’ cost of production to over 27p/litre and the bottom closer to 37p/litre,’’ he said.

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