Production standards are c hanging. Anyone who has looked at many production records knows that 20 pigs per sow per year is becoming an obsolete goal. Knowing where your production stands compared to your industry peers is helpful in understanding your competitive position and where there’s room for improvement.

Now you can monitor that through the National Pork Database, the first phase of which went online earlier this summer. The database stores production and financial data to calculate pork industry benchmarks. These figures are based on the National Pork Producers Council’s National Production and Financial Standards. Through the database, you will be able to track all of your production and financial costs and revenues, then compare your numbers with other operations.

“The database won’t replace your current production and financial software. Rather, it will enhance your ability to track your operation’s profitability,” says Dan Uthe, NPPC’s director of the Swine Information Center.

Usage is fairly simple. The database itself is a web-based application that uses a secure Internet connection. You start by entering specific numbers from your production and financial records. Then, the database makes standard calculations and the results appear in a table format showing you which percentile your operation ranks within each category, explains Uthe. The database has 243 benchmarks that you can calculate for your operation. These include breeding, nursery, finishing and the total pork operation. (See the accompanying graphic for an example.)

Once you have your operation’s benchmarks, you can compare them to other operations of similar size or within a certain percentile for any given benchmark. For instance, you can compare your operation with those businesses ranking in the top 50 percent for return on equity.

“The standards won’t teach you to be an accountant, to do strategic planning or make you profitable,” says Uthe. “They will give you the tools to set up a record system that provides you with valuable information to create a strategic plan that can help make you profitable.”

The database offers educational programs to teach you how to set up your data system. These programs can teach you the process of using production and financial records for management and help you develop the skills needed to use benchmarks to make informed management decisions.

Currently, only the production side of the database is ready. The financial side won’t be available until you have a chance to adjust to cost-based accounting and inventory values, as well as create your own chart of accounts. Uthe notes that NPPC is conducting a series of classes to help you make those changes to your system. You should be able to start inputting financial data in the database sometime in 2001, but Uthe doesn’t expect many results until 2002.

The financials are taking longer because you haven’t had the opportunity to set up your chart of accounts (income and expenses) to match the standardized format. Plus, the industry’s financial software isn’t NPPC compliant. This process should start getting easier by the end of this year. However, Uthe notes that NPPC needs a year’s worth of data to establish the financial benchmarks.

NPPC also is working with the agricultural software companies to make their products compliant with the Production and Financial Standards. “So far, the Herdsman 2000 swine recordkeeping software is the only program being built from the ground up based on the NPPCstandards,” says Keith Schuman, president and chief executive officer of S & S Programming. Herdsman 2000 is a remake of the company’s current software program. “We plan to release the software this fall.”

Uthe notes that other software companies will go through a certification process this fall to become NPPC compliant.

“By standardizing the database, you have the tools to become better business managers,”says Schuman. “Plus, lenders will have a standard way to compare numbers.”

Besides the production recordkeeping software, S & S Programming also is working on a Computerized Personal Accountant program to accommodate the financial calculations.

The company also has contracted with NPPC to develop Pork Office. Schuman says this is a transmission tool that takes information from the various agricultural production and accounting programs and calculates the standardized data elements and then electronically feeds the results into the National Pork Database. “Pork Office will extract and repackage the data so that it is compatible with the Production and Financial Standards via the Internet,” adds Schuman.

This program will be available to the producer pilot training programs this fall. During these sessions instructors will help you understand managerial accounting so that you can set up your own chart of accounts. Plus, you’ll learn how you use the National Database and its capabilities, as well as how to use benchmarks and the return on equity model. Then you can ask yourself, “What if my breeding herd averages move a percentile higher, how does that affect my bottom line?”

Producer groups can contact Jenny Felt, NPPC special programs manager, to request a training sessions, says Uthe. Groups usually work with a veterinary clinic, extension service, bank or feed company to set up these meetings.

In addition to saving you time, this process also will expedite things for your consultants because your records will be more accessible via the Internet. You will decide who will have access to your records and which areas they can access.

Database access will cost you $25 a month. However, if you have three production sites and want to keep those recrds separate, the monthly fee will be $25 for each site. Consultants and other industry personnel also will incur an access fee, but that amount hasn’t been determined yet. You will have to pay for one year before accessing the database. You can pay with a credit card via the Web site or by check or credit card directly to NPPC.

For more information on the database, contact Dan Uthe at (515) 294-5995, e-mail, uthed@nppc.org or Jenny Felt, NPPC special programs manager, (515) 223-2771, e-mail, feltj@nppc.org.

For more information on Herdsman 2000 or Pork Office, contact Keith Schuman at (765) 423-4472, e-mail, sspro@sspro.com