Shearer shortage looms as borders remain closed

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
A shortage of shearers has cost farmers this coming summer, with kiwi and Aussie shearers stuck on the other side of the Tasman due to closed borders.

It's not just shearers but also shed hands and wool handlers that could be in short supply.

That could lead to longer working hours in the woolshed and potentially more injures due to a bigger workload.

There are many New Zealand shearers that live in Australia who would normally travel backwards and forwards between the two countries during the shearing season.

President of the NZ Shearing Contractors Association, Mark Barrowcliffe, said "it is going to be a big problem if they can't bounce between the two countries, kiwis can't come back and Aussies can't come over to give us a hand."

Added to that is the limited numbers of UK shearers that we might be able to get in a place can be found for them in MIQ.

New Zealand's borders have been closed to almost all travellers to stop the spread of Covid - 19.

Over 30 million sheep are shorn throughout New Zealand each year.

The impact of the recent Covid outbreak has already been a challenge for South Island farmers coming to the end of pre-lambing.

"I do know in the South Island shed hands are very scarce," said Barrowcliffe.

"They have navigated their way through the majority of it and there is a bit of lull soon when the main shear starts in the North Island, which is the biggest loading in a calendar year on shearing staff."

The "main shear" starts in the North Island in November through to January before it moves into the South Island in February and March.

"The pinch is going to depend on where the staff end up within New Zealand and also the season that each region has.

"We need fine weather to shear sheep and if they are wet we get held up by that, that can compound the problem in more ways than one.

"If the flies start to strike and the shearers can't be there in time and the farmer has to make some calls on how to manage that".

With a looming labour shortage farmers could see the price per sheep go up compared with last season.

"Obviously people have got to pay what they have got to pay to get people and you are all fighting over a small labour market"

It could also affect shearers, with an increase in the number of sheep needed to be shorn.

"You have got your overloaded shearing and shed staff problem happening because there is less of them and injures are quite common."

Barrowcliffe says they are "targeting our own backyard" with increased training, upskilling workers while also trying to attract new entrants into the shearing industry.

"Shearer-wise it takes a while to train a shearer to a suitable level so it is not a job you can learn overnight," he said.

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