Averages are statistics that don't reveal everything. For instance, when average farmers are struggling to break even, those in the top 25 per cent will be making healthy profits while the bottom 25 per cent will be losing a small fortune.

As with all businesses, the secret to success is always to be one of the top 25 per cent.

Top farmers grow heavier crops or better livestock, their cows give more milk while their hens lay more eggs - all because of attention to detail. They also drive a harder bargain when buying and selling - particularly when selling, because top farmers produce quality goods that sell for premium prices.

If only every farmer could be as good as the top 25 per cent they would all be better off, and that's what a Scottish Executive initiative started about 14 years ago set out to achieve. Selection committees made up of local farmers chose five commercial farms run by top practical farmers in the Borders, Perth, Stranraer, Oban and Turiff. Known as monitor farms, the idea was to open them to scrutiny by local farmers.

The concept, adopted from New Zealand, involved getting those monitor farms to reveal their financial and performance data to trained local facilitators who then wrote detailed reports. Over a three-year period, groups of local farmers and other specialists like agricultural advisors met on the monitor farms six times a year. They spent a couple of hours inspecting the farm and then a couple more discussing the performance and financial results.

The group discussed and agreed on better ways of running the farm in a real, hands-on manner. Decisions were monitored and results reported back to the next meeting. That way everyone learned how to make the most from the farm and its crops or livestock. Mistakes and successes were published in the farming press and there were open days when all were welcome.

Can you imagine such a situation in any other line of business? Would a car manufacturer phone a competitor to explain to them a new, more efficient process of production, or a retailer tip off another on where to get a better deal?

That's one of the differences between farmers and other businesses - they don't see other farmers as competitors and are willing to help each other to become more efficient and profitable.

That simple idea of knowledge transfer has been widely adopted by the industry, and there are now 27 monitor farms stretching from Cornwall to Shetland, Northern Ireland and East Anglia, based on collaboration between AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) and other organisations such as QMS (Quality Meat Scotland), the red meat industry promotional body.

The latest three-year Scottish project launched in autumn 2016 has nine new monitor farms from the Borders to Shetland. It is funded by £1.25m secured from the Scottish Government and EU's Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund, and is being run jointly by QMS and AHDB.

Years of experience have shown that farmers learn best from each other, by actually seeing new practices in operation. Research carried out by the University of East Anglia backs up the theory of farmer-to-farmer learning. It found that good knowledge exchange initiatives, ideally delivered in a face-to-face manner or making the most of active demonstrations, were key factors in influencing behaviour.

More than three-quarters of farmers involved in AHDB's Monitor Farm programme believe it has helped them improve their businesses, according to a new survey.

Compared with previous years, the Monitor Farm project seems now to be attracting younger farmers. Those with ten or fewer years of farming experience made up 19.3 per cent of respondents to the survey, compared with an average 9.3 per cent over the last three years.

AHDB has now revealed plans to roll out a series of Strategic Farms for arable farmers. Each Strategic Farm will run for six years to allow independent research to be tested across a full rotation. Approaches showcased at the farms will be subject to full cost-benefit analysis to help farmers assess the potential for adoption on their own farms.

Tim Isaac, AHDB Head of Knowledge Exchange (Cereals & Oilseeds) said: "We're setting up these farms to make the connection between research and farming stronger.

"Monitor farms play an important part but tend to look at issues on that specific farm. Strategic farms, however, focus on the broader strategic needs of the industry and use trials-based approaches and sound economic data to fulfill those needs."