SHORTAGES: Ongoing labour shortages have caused Victorian shearers to be up to a month behind on work.

SHORTAGES: Ongoing labour shortages have caused Victorian shearers to be up to a month behind on work.

Shearer woes continue as shortage bites

Victorian shearers concerned over bidding wars and labour shortages

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While better placed than NSW, Victorian shearers are still up to a month behind.

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Victorian shearing contractors are up to four weeks behind schedule, as price wars in New South Wales cause further concerns.

Donna Cook from Homestead Shearing Contractors said labour shortages exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic had left her a full team short and about three weeks behind.

"We usually plan two weeks to a month ahead of us, [but] at the moment we're really planning day by day," Ms Cook said.

"We're not too bad with the shearers, I have had some come down from NSW since Christmas, but I'm really struggling with shed staff at the moment.

"I've given sheds away because I just couldn't do them, which isn't ideal but at the end of the day you do want them to get them shorn."

Others were in a similar position, she said, although contractors were working together to share staff when possible.

"It's just been so hard, we had to go through the border issues, then the shortage of shearers, then you're trying to get as much as you can done, especially at the moment because it's getting warmer and [the risk of flystrike increases]," she said.

"It's an absolute nightmare to be honest."

The situation highlighted the need for young people to enter the industry and she was planning on running regular workshops to recruit staff.

It was also important to teach young people a variety of roles within the team to ensure they could fill in different positions, she said.

Read more: Could the pandemic entice more people to work in ag?

Rob Crouch from A-Team Shearing Contractors started a month earlier than usual and had still slipped behind schedule.

"Some of my clients, we were struggling to get there and I would have let some go to get their sheep done early but the hardest part was knowing they couldn't get anyone else," Mr Crouch said.

The team was back on track after securing shearers from NSW for a couple of weeks, and more shearers from South Australia were starting to get in touch.

But it could potentially get busier, and he currently had six learners filling shearing positions instead of the usual two.

"Just the way drought's broken up in NSW and numbers are just being injected up there so quick," he said.

"If we have another good year in Victoria and NSW and get back to average years, well Jesus it could be all on again this spring coming."

I've given sheds away because I just couldn't do them, which isn't ideal but at the end of the day you do want them to get them shorn. - Donna Cook

Going forward, Mr Crouch hoped that producers, contractors and shearers would work together so the season could be stretched out to 10 months of the year.

He said having a stable income would make the industry more attractive to younger people.

"It's such a long road learning how to shear and you get them going after the spring time and when it comes to the autumn time and things start quietening down, well that's where we just lose them," he said.

"[Lately], shearing schools have been filling right up and there is big interest from young fellas to take up shearing and I think we're going to be in a really good position in a year or two, but we've just got to stretch the work around.

"We're still going to accept help from New Zealand but we'll certainly be trying to do as much as we can with all our local boys."

He was concerned that the bidding war for shearers in NSW, that has seen producers offer $4 a head, could impact Victoria.

"Shearing rates will move, they'll be going up in the very near future - I've got no doubt at all," he said.

He said farms with poor working conditions would be the ones that hurt the most when labour was short.

"I just know myself they're sort of the last sheds on the list," he said.

"People want to be working in a good environment - it's a hard job."

Shearing Contractors' Association of Australia secretary Jason Letchford said Victoria was better placed than parts of NSW.

"What you've got in Victoria is a more enticing product - you've got a lot of fat lambs down there and a proportionately reasonably-sized workforce to get them done," Mr Letchford said.

"There are growers behind still... they're several weeks, maybe a month behind, whereas parts of NSW, I heard there's a grower that's five months behind.

The story Shearer woes continue as shortage bites first appeared on The Wimmera Mail-Times.

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