Despite the federal government granting New Zealand shearers short-term visas to enter Australia for the busy spring shearing period, only a handful have accepted the offer.
Shearing Contractors Association of Australia secretaryJason Letchford said he was only aware of four or five New Zealand shearers who had applied for permits in the last couple of weeks to get on a plane destined for Australia.
That's compared to the almost 500 New Zealand contractors who would come across in a normal year to help shear between five and seven million Australian sheep.
Mr Letchford said while it was a positive the federal government had recognised the importance of these seasonal workers, the costs and time associated with travel and quarantine did not, in most cases, make the journey worthwhile.
"The facts are, you could easily identify $10,000 in costs associated with coming over to Australia," he said.
"That includes quarantine in both Australia and New Zealand and individual states and flights back and forth.
"If you put that up against what they could make in New Zealand, it doesn't make it very appealing."
Another challenge was actually getting on a flight.
"The first flight out of New Zealand might be six weeks away and there's no guarantee when it comes to the day that it will actually leave that day," he said.
And he said some New Zealanders simply didn't want to leave their country at the moment.
"With high COVID-19 rates [in Australia and particularly Victoria], the majority have lost their appetite to come," he said.
Mr Letchford said the shearer shortage had become noticeable now.
"The concept of full teams is something that's not going to happen in 2020," he said.
But he said the impact wouldn't be fully apparent until summer.
"In December, January and February we're going find those jobs that start on say December 1, might be starting on January 20," he said.
"And the knock on from that will keep going."
He predicted by December 1, the Australian sheep industry would be behind in shearing at least 5 million sheep.
Mecardo managing director Robert Herrmann said the impacts of the shearer shortage would be felt beyond COVID-19.
"This issue's not going away," Mr Herrmann said.
"It's not going to be fixed after opening our borders, we'll be talking about this next year too.
"The problem is New Zealand has a shortage of shearers now as well."
He said it would be helpful to get some sort of analysis on how many people who had participated in shearer training and the number that were still in the shearing industry one year or five years afterwards.
"Retaining shearers is the real problem," he said.
But he said the sheep industry was very good at managing problems like this and delays shouldn't extend longer than a couple of months.
"You hear stories of doom and gloom and that there'll be sheep that won't be shorn for a year, but that's not correct," he said.
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