Benchmarking: Effective Dissemination Of Know-How

By Arjan Neerhof, breeding co-ordinator, TOPIGS. The importance of the transfer of know-how as a form of sales support: benchmarking as a model for setting up a product technical service.
calendar icon 21 September 2007
clock icon 6 minute read
The pig farming industry is developing at a rapid pace, driven by external and internal factors. One of these developments is the transition from production-oriented to market- oriented farming, leading to market segmentation and the creation of niche markets. Each segment has its own specific characteristics and requirements. In addition, society and the government are imposing ever more stringent requirements in the areas of product safety, animal welfare and the environment.

Benchmarking is an effective transfer of know-how model

Pig farmers are having to cope with the effects of rising prices as a result of the requirements imposed by the market and society, and growing price pressure caused by competition on the world market. Their response is to look for ways to increase their margins by expanding their farms and entering into partnerships with other pig farmers for buying and selling.

Pig farmers are changing

The developments in the pig farming industry have been made possible because pig farmers have also changed: from farmers into managers/entrepreneurs. Modern pig farmers are better educated and have more technical know-how. Instead of getting involved in the day-to-day work on the farm, they are tending to concentrate more on developing the business and solving specific farm-related problems.

For TOPIGS this means that knowledge support and customer management are becoming increasingly important aspects. Pig farmers demand practical and preferably total solutions that can be readily applied at their farms. Consequently, suppliers face a difficult market because the industry is becoming increasingly complex, as is the level of competition as a result of pig farmers adopting a more competitive purchasing policy. How can a business be successful and remain so under such market conditions?

One possible approach is to introduce benchmarking as an organisational set-up for technical service. A benchmark is something that is taken or used as a point of reference or comparison. Benchmarking therefore involves comparing one farm with another.

The success of benchmarking for the set-up of technical service will depend on finding a suitable benchmark farm. At this so-called demonstration farm the product of a specific supplier is used. If necessary and in consultation with the pig farmer, the management conditions at the farm are adjusted to the specific demands of the product and/or the product segment in which the pig farmer operates. This is used to demonstrate the best way to work with the product and how to achieve maximum results with it. Whether a particular farm is suitable will depend on the objectives of the technical service. Here are two examples:

  • If the customer is an integrated group of farms, one of the farms could be designated as demonstration farm. The supplier will demonstrate the possibilities of his product at this farm and will provide optimum product support. Subsequently, this farm will serve as an example to the other farms within the integrated group and the group will be responsible for disseminating the expertise acquired within its own organisation.
  • If the customer is a slaughterhouse with a particular interest in specific product qualities, one supplier has to be appointed. The conditions at this supplier can be effectively attuned to the specific product demands for the segment in which the supplier operates. This farm and the expertise acquired can then serve as an example to other suppliers to the slaughterhouse.

It is also important that the intended benchmark farm has a proper data collection system and that the pig farmer/farm management is interested in optimising the production conditions at the farm. He or she will also have to share the expertise acquired with others. Initially, the farm does not need to be a top-class farm. It is often more instructive for other farms to upgrade an average farm than to further optimise a farm that is already perfect.

Insight into operations

One of the advantages of this approach is that insight is gained into how a larger customeroriented organisation operates, such as an integrated group of pig farms. This relates not only to management level, but to all levels throughout the organisation, without the need to visit each participating farm individually. This approach also prevents repeatedly needing to put things right.

The situation is actually reversed. Instead of inviting experts to a farm when problems arise, farms work at an on-going basis at the proper way of using the product on the farm and within the integrated group.

At the same time, the supplier acquires knowledge of the production methods and product requirements of the customer. This knowledge can then be used with other customers. A deeper relationship can be developed and more attention can be paid to details, because with this approach the benchmark farm is visited frequently, instead of many farms being visited only sporadically.

In addition, the advice of the supplier's staff is more likely to be implemented, because they have to visit the same farm regularly. There is also more time available, because the number of farms to be visited decreases. The higher visiting frequency also helps them to gain a better understanding of how the benchmark farm operates.


  • Is not practical research. The primary objective is to demonstrate the possibilities of a product and to build up customer relations, and is therefore more commercially oriented. This does not mean to say that experience acquired at a benchmark farm cannot lead to product development and that such a farm cannot play a dual role by allowing research to be carried out at that farm in addition to benchmarking.
  • Does not need to be complex and must definitely not lead to a mass of paperwork.
  • As a strategy is not only applicable to large-scale customers but also for markets or market segments as a whole.
  • May sound popular, but is increasingly being used as an organisational set-up, either wholly or partly.
  • Does not need to be restricted to the supplier-customer relationship. Other suppliers, such as the veterinary surgeon and the feed supplier can also be involved. This will provide other suppliers to the pig farming industry with a better understanding of the characteristics of the specific product.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2007 edition of Diergeneeskundig Memorandum Periodical Magazine.

September 2007

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