Latest News

On-Farm Innovation Series: Back Up Charlie

Over the 2018/19 festive period, Farm Table is presenting a series to celebrate the innovative ingenuity of farm inventions, big and small, and the farmers behind them.

Innovative solutions to problems are being developed and designed by Australian producers, and we are excited and proud to share these stories with you all.

In our second case study, we chat to the Webb family, who along with running their property, also run an innovative business called Back Up Charlie, which was created based on a pain point felt when managing their sheep in the yards. Their story is one of ingenuity, hard work and family and we were thrilled to chat with them. They are lovely and welcoming and we are appreciative that they shared their story with Farm Table readers.

Tell us about you and where you are based?

Our names are Charlie, Tana and Jose Webb. We run a mixed farming enterprise of merino sheep and cereal grain cropping on our farm “Lakeside,” which is located between Lockhart and Urana in the Central Riverina of New South Wales.

Charlie designed and built Back Up Charlie (“BUC”) in the shearing shed at “Lakeside” and we all travel around the countryside, in particular to field days, promoting and selling Back Up Charlie.

Tana, Jose and Charlie Webb

What is the nature of your on-farm innovation, BUC?

BUC is a flexible sheep movement system, which can be used as a lead up race to all forms of sheep handling equipment.

For example, BUC can be used with, and compliments, sheep handlers, weighing boxes, crutching trailers, jetting plants, scanning machines and can increase general flow of sheep into drafting races or systems.

BUC is fully adjustable and can be set up in any shape the operator chooses, from a straight line or all the way through to a bugle formation. BUC is also portable. Therefore, you can take BUC anywhere and position it where required.

A BUC Curved Unit

Why did you develop BUC? What was the problem you were hoping to solve?

Approximately 10 years ago we purchased a very good sheep handler, however getting sheep to run into the sheep handler was a major drawback. The sheep would back away from the sheep handler and turn around, making it a difficult and frustrating task to use the sheep handler.

It was like having a grain harvester (aka header) without a comb; there was no point having the sheep handler without a lead up race.

This problem is extremely common and is experienced by over 90% of people using sheep handlers.

Charlie researched many lead up race options and tried them out, however soon realised that they did not solve the problem, as they did not prevent the sheep from backing away and turning around.

As a result, Charlie began to design and construct BUC. In 2016 BUC was launched to the public at Sheepvention in Hamilton, Victoria.

Posted by Back Up Charlie on Wednesday, 24 October 2018

What have been the major successes?

BUC has solved our on-farm problem of moving sheep through our sheep handler, which has greatly reduced the time it takes to complete a task and therefore our labour requirements have lessened.

BUC has created a safer, less stressful and more enjoyable work environment for not only us, but for our dogs and sheep as well.

BUC has received great recognition within the industry. BUC won the prestigious Henty Machinery Field Days “Machine of the Year” 2016, Australian National Field Days “The Land Machine of the Year” 2017 and NAB Agribusiness Award for Excellence 2017.

BUC’s other successes over the past two years, which we are very proud of, is that BUC units have been sold to many satisfied customers across Australia; in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.

It has been the greatest pleasure helping our customers within their own farming enterprises by sharing the innovation of BUC and often our experiences in the sheep yards.

2016 Henty Machinery Field Days Machine of the Year
Photo courtesy of The Rural

What have been the major challenges?

The first major challenge we faced when designing and refining BUC was sourcing quality materials to construct BUC and finding a trustworthy manufacturer.

BUC is now patented, which was a process we considered essential to have underway before we released BUC to the public, however we found the patenting process extremely slow, sometimes challenging and extremely costly.

We also found entering the market place and being the “new kids on the block” to be another challenge, as the sheep handling industry is extremely well established and a competitive market place, with a wide variety of products and price ranges available.

We have found that consumers initially buy products at a low price point, however more often than not these products do not meet the consumers’ needs and they are unsatisfied. Unfortunately in many cases, our potential customers are very reluctant to purchase again, based on a previous negative experience.

We also find that consumers tend to only consider the cost of the product, however they do not seem to take into account how much of a cost saving product it will be.

BUC Straight Unit

Do you have any advice for others looking to solve a problem they face on farm?

Our advice is that the most effective solution to a problem becomes apparent by taking a totally different approach to the norm. In our view most problems are solved by “original” ideas, not copies of something that already exists.

If you consider you have an innovative “original” idea, trial it extensively, protect it (with a patent), work with people you can trust and consult with your accountants and lawyers.

It is also important to work out the costs to make sure it is worthwhile for you and most importantly, follow your dreams!

Where can people find you? 

Check out Back Up Charlie on our website, Facebook and Instagram @backupcharlieofficial. If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact Charlie Webb on 0428 271 518 or by email to

Thank you so much Tana, Charlie and Josie!

Thank you both for taking the time to give an insight into your business for our readers. Just amazing!

Stay tuned for the next in our series and in the meantime, read our first case study on the Snowden’s and Hay Caps.

On-Farm Innovation Series: Hay Caps

A community rebuilds after fires wreak havoc

A huge fire tore through a regional farming community in South Australia in January, destroying thousands of hectares of land and several houses.

The Sherwood fire on January 6 destroyed 12,000 hectares of land in the state’s upper south east and killed about 2,000 livestock.

Almost one year on, healthy wheat and barley crops are growing, new fences are being built, and farmers are trying to get back on track.

But it has been a challenging 11 months for people in the community.

Nobody was injured but several houses were destroyed in the fire, as well as infrastructure like fences and water pipes.

“Normally everyone’s busy on farm — there’s no doubt about it — but this has certainly raised the bar this year,” farmer Charlie Crozier said.

Mr Crozier lost 650 sheep in the fire.

The repair work has meant that for farmers like him, getting the farm ready for another season has been challenging.

“It’s been a very long and arduous task, just going through paddock by paddock, gateway by gateway, and just ironing out all of those issues,” Mr Crozier said.

He said that getting things back on track has taken “a lot of long days, and a lot of help from outsiders as well”.


Long-term investment a major CBH focus

EXPANSION and enhancement within the CBH system is part of its new network strategy Plan, Build and Operate.

CBH project delivery general manager Andrew Porter said he was focused on the build phase of the strategy with continuous investment into the network.

“We want to upgrade and expand our network,” Mr Porter said.

“To do this I have spent the past few years building up a very engineering orientated and high performing team.”

Mr Porter said they only had one chance at deploying capital so they had to get it right.

“This year has been a great year to show how successful our Plan, Build, Operate has been,” he said.

“We have managed to deploy more than $130 million worth of capital into our network.”

This was spent on increasing storage in the network, renewing existing assets and improving grower services.

Up until September 2018, CBH had built 650,000 tonnes of permanent storage largely in the Kwinana zone.

But Mr Porter said the momentum was still there and they were on track to complete a further 300,000t of storage, new to the network, by the end of this calendar year.

With estimates unusually large this year in the Kwinana zone, the build team has also been working on catering for grain overflow.


Weather continues to dampen harvest

FOR Darkan farmer David Warren, this year’s harvest is about seven days from finishing – breakdowns and weather permitting.

David was harvesting the last of his 150 hectare canola program on the weekend with the GT-53 Roundup Ready variety yielding about 1.7 tonnes a hectare.

The header then moved into a 450ha Spartacus barley program which he said was yielding about 3.5t/ha.

“We are probably a week behind where we would normally be, but we had a 30mm rain event a couple of weeks ago that delayed harvest,” he said.

“It doesn’t look like it has done too much damage to quality, with the barley going Malt so far.

“It just meant we couldn’t get going when we wanted to.”

David said, like a number of regions, it was a very late start to the growing season for the Darkan area.

“Probably for the start we had and the rainfall during the growing season we are happy with the yields we are seeing,” he said.

“Early on it wasn’t looking good and then we had a very wet spring which was good for pasture but our crops in the lower country suffered from waterlogging.

“The frost event that impacted many areas of the Great Southern also caused more damage than we thought it did, so that will hit our barley yields.”


More heat in sight for Adelaide

More heat in sight for Adelaide

Sunday December 9, 2018 – 12:10 EDT

It’s been a hot start to December for Adelaide, with further heat on its way middle of this working week.

Starting off the month with a 33 degree day, December was already off to a hot one in Adelaide. Although temperatures took a tumble over the following day or two, it didn’t take long for summer to show its face again.

With heat building each day from Monday 3rd, the mercury nudged into the 30’s by Wednesday 5th, climbing to a scorching 39.6 degrees by Friday 7th at the West Terrace site.

Temperatures are currently much cooler than that now, with Adelaide expected to peak in the high 20’s on Sunday and Monday this week. Those 30 plus degree days aren’t far away again however with a low pressure trough funneling heat from the interior down towards Adelaide on Tuesday. The mercury is expected to peak back in the mid 30’s on Tuesday, hovering in the low 30’s on Wednesday. Should these temperatures materialize, it would mean six of the first 12 days of summer peaked above 35 degrees. Comparatively, last year didn’t reach 30 until the 12th day itself.


International researchers target drought-proof spud

THE strain of drought might predominantly draw the focus of the livestock industry in Australia but potato growers may benefit from South American research looking at more drought tolerant lines.  

The International Potato Centre (CIP) in Peru is are using wild potatoes to develop climate-resilient varieties.

The resulting potatoes combine heat and drought tolerance with resistance to the most important diseases affecting potato crops, late blight and bacterial wilt, which are expected to become greater threats as global warming advances.

Globally, late blight alone causes billions of dollars in losses for potato farmers, who spend more than USD 1 billion per year on fungicides to control the disease. 

The development of disease resistant potato varieties can substantially reduce production costs and help improve the incomes and diets of small-scale potato farmers.

Scientists spent the past four years evaluating wild – often inedible – potatoes stored at CIP’s genebank in Lima, and crossing them with cultivated potatoes, with support from the Crop Trust and the Government of Norway. 

The CIP genebank safeguards one of the world’s largest collections of the potato’s wild relatives, some of which grow in areas with harsh climates or pest and disease pressure. 

Those plants evolved mechanisms to cope with extreme conditions, and breeders want to transfer those traits into cultivated varieties.


Five things you need to know about drought

As both a farmer and a journalist, it’s been frankly frustrating to watch the national media coverage of what has been a tough and, for some, devastating natural disaster.

Let me say from the outset there is no easy fix for drought. No government assistance package or media campaign can make it rain and in the end, that’s the only way to end a drought.

While the outpouring of support for farmers has been largely welcome, most farmers would trade the kindness in a heartbeat for a better understanding of what they do, year in, year out.

Farmers yearn for a better connection with the wider Australian public.

Yes, the business of farming makes you more practical about death. But equally, it makes you more respectful of life.

But we don’t want that connection to be based on sympathy generated because of images of starving stock and failing crops. That’s not a real reflection of our industry nor our way of life.

Drought is brutal business and there’s no doubt some people will lose their livelihoods simply because of factors outside of their control. It’s not fair but that’s the reality of most small businesses – not just farming.

So what do farmers want the rest of Australia to know about their industry and their businesses?


Hot temperatures, hot prices at Corryong

Hot temperatures, hot prices at Corryong

Angus stud breeder, Peter Collins, Merridale, Tennyson, with bull client Bruce Whitsed, Nariel and Mr Whitsed’s Merridale-blood Angus spring-drop steers sold at $1570.

George Redding, Khancoban and grandson Adam Whithead, Corryong were looking to buy

Volume buyer, Lang Peterkin, Tallangatta, with daughter Meagan Peterkin and grandson Nick Herring, Holbrook.

Honor and Mark Auchinleck, Towong sold 120 Angus steer weaners to $1170 a head at the Corryong sale.

Guest auctioneers at Costello Rural-conducted Corryong sale were Murray Bullen and Peter Ruaro, PRL Rodwells, Wodonga.

A large crowd bid strongly despite the soaring temperatures.

Mike O’Brien, RMA network watched the sale keenly.

Buyers climbed to get a closer look…

Commission buyer, Damian Whyte, Wodonga, discussed transport arrangements with Corryong carrier, Rob Whitely.

50 years in the cattle buying business, Paul Weidner was prominent among the buying gallery.

Gina and Peter Sutherland, Thologalong, offered Murray Grey steers and heifers at Corryong. The Murray Grey was first established by the Sutherland family in 1905 and registered as breed in 1963.

Prices soared in near century-high temperatures at an Upper Murray sale of store cattle at Corryong on Friday.