AN INCREASE of 61% in the price of work permits could cost sheep producers an extra 2p a sheep at shearing time, said National Association of Agricultural Contractors chief executive Jill Hewitt.

In just two years, the cost of applying for a work permit had risen from zero to 153, she added. “This is a massive blow to an industry already struggling to find a skilled shearing workforce. It is not up to the contractor to bear the cost, nor can their customers.

“And to pass the fee on to shearers will actively discourage professionals from coming to the UK.” Such a blow would seriously threaten the supply of experienced shearers, putting animal welfare at risk, said Mrs Hewitt. There aren”t enough resident, skilled operators available, she added.

“There is a heavy reliance on overseas shearers who carry out an estimated 20% of UK shearing.”