Shearing industry at a 'crossroads' with foreign worker shortage

The shearing industry says a labour shortage due to foreign workers not being allowed in the country could lead to "massive animal health issues".

"As a nation we're looking for anywhere upwards of 150 shearers that won't be here this season," Shane Ratima, from the New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association, told Rural Exchange over the weekend.

"The upshot of that is farmers are just not going to get their sheep shorn on time and that's going to lead to probably pretty massive animal health issues," Ratima said.

As well as concerns over animal welfare, the shortage could also impact farmers' bottom line, particularly as crossbred wool prices are at a record low at the moment.

"With the value of wool as it is, farmers don't want to be compromising the value of their meat as well," Ratima said. 

He said the industry was now at a "crossroads", after recently having its application asking for shearers to be allowed into the country as essential workers declined.

With little hope that the worker shortage would be filled by December, the busiest time of the year, Ratima said it was imperative that farmers and shearing contractors worked together to try to mitigate the situation. 

He encouraged farmers to try and bring their sheep in earlier, in November, to help avoid a "bottleneck of work".  

The shearing industry is one of many in the primary sector begging for foreign workers to be allowed into the country.

Rural contractors have been pressuring the Government to allow in skilled machinery workers ahead of the harvesting season, as have veterinarians, who say a shortfall in workers could have serious consequences for the country's agriculture sector.

The Government says although it recognises there are worker shortages, its priority is to train up New Zealanders to be able fill those positions.