Farm business survey - technical notes and guidance

Technical information, notes and guidance on the farm business survey.

The Farm Business Survey (FBS) provides information on the financial position and physical and economic performance of farm businesses in England. The main uses of the FBS are to provide data to the Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN), inform policy making, for farm business advice, for benchmarking business performance and for research.

Data collection, methodology and confidentiality

The FBS collects detailed information from a sample of farms in England. Information about the survey, definitions and recording forms and instructions can be found below under FBS documents. Within the FBS, farms are classified to particular types and size groups to aid analysis. In 2014, the coefficients used in this process were updated. A description of the methods used to classify farms and an assessment of the impact of the 2014 change can be found below under FBS documents (see “Effects of standard output changes on Farm Business Survey”).

In 2004/05 a new methodology was introduced to enable farm incomes to be broken down by four cost centres; agriculture, diversification, agri-environment activities and direct payments. Variable and fixed costs are allocated to each of these cost centres. The methodology for allocating fixed costs has been subject to a number of reviews with the most recent being documented below under FBS documents (see Methodology for the Allocation and Apportionment of Fixed Costs by Cost Centre).

Additional ‘modules’ have been included in the FBS to look at particular facets of the farm business in more detail. Some modules such as those looking at enterprise margins, rents and household income (data collection ceased in 2015) are repeated annually. A list and brief description of the modules that have been undertaken can be found below under FBS documents.

The data collected from the FBS relates to individual farms and is treated in the strictest confidence. Our policy statement on confidentiality can be found below under FBS documents.

The FBS is a collaborative programme between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and a consortium of six universities and colleges. The FBS Project Board plans and monitors the programme of work for the FBS. It also acts as a contract managing body between Defra and its contracted partners.

Two committees operate at a UK level to provide technical and strategic advice to the FBS Project Board and its equivalents in other UK countries. The first is the FBS Technical Group which advises on the methodology and technical aspects of the UK Farm Business Surveys, including co-ordination of outputs for the United Kingdom as a whole. The second is the UK FADN Liaison Committee which approves selection plans prior to their submission to DG Agri and co-ordinates a consistent approach to the collection and submission of FADN data.

The FBS is subject to the EU legislation governing the Farm Accountancy Data Network. Council Regulation (EC) No 1217/2009 obliges member states to collect the information and imposes confidentiality constraints on the data. Subsequent Commission Regulations lay down detailed rules on implementation.

Access to FBS data for research

Anonymous, confidential FBS data collected is available to bona fide researchers and can be obtained via the Economic and Social Data Service, UK Data Archive, University of Essex. This should be the first point of contact for researchers wishing to access the FBS data.

Whilst the anonymous data can be obtained, neither Defra nor other researchers can gain access to participating FBS co-operators (e.g. for further interviews or studies) because FBS co-operators agree to take part on the basis that their identity will always remain confidential. In cases where researchers would like to undertake additional interviews or data collection from FBS Co-operators, this will normally only be possible via an “arms-length” arrangement whereby RBR will undertake the additional data collection in order to retain confidentiality of the co-operator. Researchers wishing to explore possibilities for additional data collection from FBS co-operators should contact Paul Wilson, RBR ( and copied to Joanna Hutchinson, FBS team Defra (, in the first instance and prior to the submission of any grant or funding applications for research.

FBS documents

The following documents show what information is collected on the FBS and how it is recorded.

Technical notes

Recording forms

Instructions for data collection

Defra statistics: farm business survey

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Published 2 January 2010
Last updated 3 March 2020 + show all updates
  1. Added Farm Business Survey Privacy/data protection notice.

  2. Updated e-mail address for fbs team under “Access to FBS data for research” section. Also fixed broken link to data-archive website.

  3. Added updated confidentiality policy document.

  4. Added instructions for completing the farm return for 2018/19.

  5. Added farm business survey 2018/19 recording form

  6. Added FBS weighting methodology document.

  7. Added 2017/18 FBS recording form and code booklet (FAS 24 and 23).

  8. Added 2016/17 FBS Instructions.

  9. Added 2016/17 FBS recording form and code booklet (FAS 24 and 23).

  10. Added 2015/16 FBS recording form and code booklet (FAS 24 and 23) and 2015/16 Instructions for collecting the data and completing the farm return.

  11. Updated body text of this page and added 4 documents: definitions used, modules, statistical Information and data confidentiality.

  12. Added 2014/15 FBS recording form and code booklet (FAS 24 and 23) and 2014/15 Instructions for collecting the data and completing the farm return.

  13. Methodology for the allocation and apportionment of fixed costs by cost centre document updated.

  14. Amended text on data collection, methodology and confidentiality plus new methodology document added.

  15. EU typology handbook now attached

  16. Data collection, methodology and confidentiality text updated and two new documents attached.

  17. Updated with 2013 to 2014 form and 2013 to 2014 instructions, and updated 2012 to 2013 form.

  18. Added FBS recording booklets and instructions.

  19. First published.