But this year, there is a key in the works.Australia faces a desperate shortage of shearers for its 68 million sheep – and looming animal welfare issues – as hundreds of New Zealand shearers are prevented from making their usual annual trip due to the pandemic of Covid-19, or are unwilling to do so in the event of the virus outbreak in parts of Australia.
Australia’s industry relies on short-term mowing contractors from New Zealand and Britain, with at least 480 New Zealanders crossing the Tasman River in August each year for the spring season. They support a local population of only around 3,000 shearers, said Jason Letchford, spokesperson for the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia.
“We have two animal welfare problems looming … one is that shearing is facilitated at the right time, so that they are in the right conditions to give birth to their offspring,” he said. stated, referring to the current spring season, which began in August. “The second will be the fly stroke … If the wool stays on the sheep longer, we will see an increased rate.”
Fly is a condition caused by wind flies laying their eggs on sheep; it can kill or require euthanasia of animals and costs Australian farmers AU $ 280m (£ 154m) each year, according to figures from the Western Australian government.
Usually, people in Australia and New Zealand – closely related neighbors – can move between countries at will, visa-free, but the Covid-19 pandemic has led to strict border closures for both. , with exemptions that are difficult to obtain. Only Australian citizens, residents and immediate family members can travel to the country, and they are required to self-quarantine for two weeks at a hotel upon entry.
Even though New Zealand shearers have been able to secure exemptions from the Australian government to cross its borders – no attempt has been successful so far – contractors have to pay up to A $ 10,000 (£ 5,500) just for thefts and quarantine upon arrival in each country, Letchford. said. New Zealand ruled this week that anyone leaving the country for trips of less than 90 days – as many shearers would – must pay for their own mandatory isolation upon return; they would also lose two weeks of income on either end of their trip while in quarantine.
“We cannot expect Australian and New Zealand citizens to bear our quarantine costs, but governments need to calculate the costs to animal welfare if the shearing does not occur,” said Mark Barrowcliffe, President of the New Zealand Association of Shear Contractors. “If Australia wants us to be enough, do they want to shoulder the costs of the quarantine?”
There are other problems: Flights through Tasmania have dried up, with Air New Zealand halting new bookings until at least August 28. And as the Covid-19 crisis intensifies in the Australian state of Victoria in particular, Letchford said, the trip was no longer attractive to New Zealand shearers.
“We went from two or three weeks ago to having all these New Zealanders pretending to come here, munching on a bit,” he said. “Now there are very few of them… they read the newspaper like everyone else.”
New Zealand has successfully stemmed the spread of the coronavirus for now, with no known community transmission, while Victoria’s capital Melbourne has entered its toughest lockdown after a resurgence of cases. New South Wales is also struggling with community epidemics.
Glenn Haynes, a spokesperson for the Shearing Contractors Association in South Australia, had helped make creative proposals to Australian authorities on how New Zealand shearers could enter the country; one in which shearers would work in an isolated property – where they would be essentially isolated due to their location, thus avoiding a fortnight in quarantine in a hotel – would likely not be approved, he said.
Another where four New Zealand shearers offered to pay their own quarantine fees was under consideration, he added.
But that was still a long way from the hundreds of contractors who usually arrive for the season, and money would be tight for many in New Zealand, Barrowcliffe said, with some looking for other farm work. New Zealand would then face a shear shortage in November, with Australian and UK entrepreneurs unable to enter the country, he said.
Cross-wool prices were already at record highs, Barrowcliffe added, and some farmers may choose not to shear animals until they are sent to slaughter if they cannot find enough clippers.
“The whole world is stuck right now,” he said.
Letchford and Barrowcliffe both said their governments have invested money in training new shearers, but that won’t happen fast enough to save this season.
“How did we get to the point where we don’t have enough people to harvest our primary production and we are beholden to foreign labor? How did we drop the ball on this? Letchford said. “The business reality is that we have this nice, fluid transitional workforce where one in a hundred years is crowded, but generally it works great.”