Thoroughbred studs across the Upper Hunter are preparing for the arrival of the 2022 foaling season, but many are finding it difficult to source enough staff.
According to the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association, the industry contributes to over $1.2 billion in direct spending in New South Wales and helps to support over 1200 trainers, over 300 jockeys and apprentices and over 1,000 other employees.
But after Australia closed its borders during the COVID-19 pandemic studs in the Upper Hunter found it difficult to bring in many of the specialised staff they required from Europe and North America, and though the borders have now reopened the challenges have persisted.
David White, the stud manager at Vinery Stud near Scone, said many studs were struggling to fill vacancies ahead of their busiest period.
"There's a lot of vacancies on properties," Mr White said.
"There's not a lot of staff available in all sectors of the industry, not just the breeding industry.
"The whole post-COVID thing is still playing a bit of havoc. We are getting people coming in again from the northern hemisphere from their breeding season but we're not back to where we were pre-COVID."
Mr White said while many of the studs maintain their core staff within the Upper Hunter throughout the year, they do rely on many overseas staff including backpackers arriving on working holiday visas.
"(The lack of backpackers) has been a problem, and I think it will be an ongoing problem for the next two years," he said.
"Flights are quite expensive now, so there is an element of cost involved for the overseas staff."
Aside from the COVID pandemic, thoroughbred breeders across the Hunter Valley have faced numerous challenges in recent years, including drought, bushfires and mouse plagues and most recently flooding events across the Upper Hunter in November 2021 and March 2022.
"The (floods) earlier in the year, we were quite affected by it. There were two within quite close proximity to each other and we had a lot of pasture that was flooded," Mr White said.
"There were days that we had to move the stock, so it became difficult in some respects."
Ahead of August 1, the traditional birthday of all thoroughbred horses and the start of the foaling season, Mr White said despite the challenges the mood across studs in the Upper Hunter was positive.
"Going into a breeding season there are always challenges, but the majority of the staff I have are well prepared mentally," he said.
"The covering season will be quite busy too, in the sheds they'll be running 24/7, but they're mentally prepared for it. They understand what's coming.
"We're all ready, but it's not our first rodeo to be honest."
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