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The Value of True Results Part I

Benchmarking is a valuable means of evaluation for any production process and its managing business. The simple ingredients of benchmarking include purpose, data, integrity and commitment. I recently wrote an article that examined certain claims in an authoritative publication by the pig industry executive. Before publication I submitted it, in fairness, to the chairman because I was examining contradicting evidence and also asking for the details behind a statement that had been given some weight.

My article began with the following paragraph; ‘A former editor of the Daily Telegraph once wrote “One of the stupid features of public spending is that it is argued in terms of totals, rather than what the money actually does. This is a constant cause of waste and figure fiddling”.’ It would be correct to assume from reading this that the subject was the origin of newly published figures that appeared to contradict previously published figures by the same organisation. The response that I received was helpful if slightly critical of my article. The helpful part was the information that the figures were different because they had been recalculated using a weighting that took into account certain characteristics of UK production that differed from the rest of the EU. These weightings brought the figures into a more favourable comparison with the EU although the claims I was challenging were originally year on year performance efficiencies in UK production. I also questioned dividing the difference in performance between 2010 and 2014 by 4 when in fact the period covers 5 years. This was not explained. The criticism was of the tone of my article which was seen as less than constructive. I withdrew the article from publication as I have no desire to make a negative or misleading contribution to the industry that has employed me throughout my working life so far.

Some may say ‘well you’ve said it anyway’…no I haven’t, not in the level of detail in the original and in publishing in my blog as opposed to the mainstream I am building on the central issue that the experience raises. What the experience has done is make me look even more closely at how we arrive at the figures I believe could add great value to our understanding.

Take a figure like the average number of sows and in-pig gilts in the herd. One calculation used widely in early recording systems was the sum total of in-pig gilts and sows in production at the beginning and end of the report period divided by 2. This was thought to be a good calculation because it more or less matched the herd inventory but it didn’t take into account any significant fluctuation within the report period. This then fed into the critical litters/sow/year calculation in the same systems. This calculation was the total number of litters born divided by the average number of number of sows and in-pig gilts. This figure is misleading.

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