ABSTRACT The objective of this work was to identify and assess the technological, zootechnical and socioeconomic profiles and identify and quantify benchmarks for dairy cattle production systems, in a non - experimental approach, aiming to contribute to the sustainability and competitiveness of dairy farming in the Pernambuco Agreste region, northeastern Brazil. Thirty-six milk production systems of family and corporate farming were evaluated during twelve months, in order to identify and quantify the benchmarks. The systems were characterized regarding their size and technological, zootechnical and economic profiles. The correlation coefficients of the return rate on invested capital were assessed and regression equations were developed for each indicator, according to four scenarios of annual return rates (4, 6, 8 and 10%). The indicators evaluated were milk production per dairy cows, milk production per area, average price of milk, effective operational cost, total operating cost, total cost per price of milk and profitability. The dairy farming in the Pernambuco Agreste region pays the production costs, but tends to a not adequate remuneration of family labor and a need of external capital input for replacement of the assets. The productivity of production factors area and animals showed higher correlation with cost-effectiveness, denoting the need for increase the production through increases in land area and milk productivity per dairy cow. The identification and quantification of benchmarks may help to identify the weak points of dairy farming in the Agreste region, making it sustainable and competitive.