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9 June 2021

WorkSafe Profile: Joseph Watts - Driving awareness of health and safety in shearing industry

This profile is part of a seven-part series from WorkSafe New Zealand sharing the health and safety approaches taken by the grand finalists of the 2021 FMG Young Farmer of the Year competition.  Joseph Watts, Technical Field Rep for PGG Wrightson, will represent East Coast in the national competition.

“Industry campaigns and growing professionalism are driving awareness of health and safety among shearers,” says Joseph. Yet, he still sees plenty of room for improvement.

Joseph began his rural career as a shearer, having completed a Bachelor of Sport and Exercise degree and then played squash professionally for several years.  He went on to gain a Graduate Diploma in Rural Studies from Massey University and is now a Technical Field Representative for PGG Wrightson as well as farming some beef cattle on a 30 acre site at Waipukurau, with his partner, vet Lucy Dowsett.

Even though he is no longer shearing full-time, Joseph still likes to keep his hand in, doing some shearing in his spare time and helping out mates and following shearing social media pages.

In 2018, Federated Farmers and the New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association, with support from ACC and WorkSafe, joined forces to implement the Tahi Ngātahi programme to improve safety and performance in the country’s woolsheds. Joseph says he has started to see the positive impact of the programme in the industry.

Having been a professional sportsperson, Joseph was always aware of the importance of eating well, keeping hydrated, warming up and doing stretches before physical work and taking steps to avoid sprains and strains.

Information about health, safety and wellbeing for people working in the sector, including techniques, stretching and strengthening and nutrition, is available through the Tahi Ngātahi website. Woolshed workers, farmers and shearing contractors can also sign up for online learning through the page – at

“There’s good information available and I’m seeing awareness growing steadily,” says Joseph. “People are starting to view shearing as a long-term professional career, where you can operate and compete at a high level. They are starting to recognise that if they want to do it long term, they need to look after themselves.

“The industry has always tended to put the new shearers with the experienced guys, to learn good techniques from them, but people are taking that a lot more seriously. I see a lot more sheep in slings now, to avoid muscle strains, and people doing stretches at the beginning and end of the day. I tend to do some stretches and go fairly easy for the first 15 or so minutes, while my body warms up.

“I think people have always recognised that if you keep your equipment sharp, that makes shearing easier, but there has been less understanding of how using blunt equipment will affect your body in the future. There are still those who can’t be bothered to put the effort into good maintenance but there is definitely more awareness around that.

“You also see a growing number of shearers bringing their own shearing machines to sheds – to make sure equipment is in the best shape for shearing. I was helping out at a shed recently with three young shearers, all in their 20s, and they had all their own machines.”

Joseph says hygiene is another issue that is gradually improving but could still be better.

“I was what you could call a ‘tidy kid’ and always very aware about good hand-washing practices, especially before eating,” he says.

“When I started shearing, I just had to get over that because there were sheds that literally had no hand washing facilities. You have to eat, to keep your energy up and you wouldn’t want to use your water bottle to wash because there was nowhere to refill it, so I would be handling food with my hands covered with grease, wool and worse. That is getting better, but every shed should have running water, liquid soap and paper towels to dry your hands.”

Joseph also sees awareness about nutrition growing.

“It’s very demanding work. People have always been pretty good about keeping hydrated but when I was shearing, a lot of people lived on junk – literally packet chips, processed stuff and takeaways.

“But there’s a lot of industry advice about that now and shearing companies are working to educate people about eating better. Some very high performing shearers work with nutritionists – and that approach filters down. You see a lot on shearing and social media about eating well and different electrolytes and it’s really good to see those discussions.

“Again, my background means I’ve always been aware about the importance of a good diet. I tend to eat a balance of meat, vegetables and carbs. If I’m shearing, I might make extra pasta to take with me or a healthy sandwich and nuts and grains. I allow myself treats too – I take the view that if I’m eating good stuff, I can have a few lollies. I think if you have a good diet, water is sufficient but I will supplement with electrolytes sometimes.”

While shearing full-time, Joseph was fortunate to escape serious injury when he was knocked unconscious by the spinning bucket of an old wool press.

“I did notice things were starting to get better around the time I left shearing, about four years ago, largely due to awareness about the new regulations coming in,” he says. "That included replacing old machinery, like wool presses.”


The FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final will take place in the Christchurch, 1-3 July.  Keep an eye on Facebook or for updates.

For more information: WorkSafe media phone 021 823 007. 

Joseph Watts Young farmer of the Year

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Canterbury Weather Event Update

01 June 2021

Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by the severe weather event in Canterbury and we are monitoring the situation closely to establish what support our customers and communities need and how we can assist. ‘Helping grow the country’ is our vision and is at the heart of what we do, and this is especially the case at times of challenge and adversity.

The Canterbury region and surrounding areas have experienced a significant flood event and the full impact of this may not be known until flood waters recede and assessments undertaken. That effort is getting underway as the rain has eased. In the meantime, all our stores remain open, and our staff will be contacting customers and getting on-farm where practicable and offering support. We have heard of heartening stories of neighbours and communities helping one another.

The Rural Support Trust teams are coordinating their response efforts in the rural areas and PGW will continue to liaise and assist where we are able to do so. The Trust is also available to provide support and advice and details can be found at

Both the Temuka and Canterbury Park livestock saleyards will remain closed this week as assessment of the roading infrastructure in the area is assessed.  As conditions allow, we hope that the calendared sales will recommence again soon and we will update the situation on our website.

Road and bridge closures have caused disruption to transport routes and damaged roads cause hazards for drivers, so please be cautious when driving. For our part, PGW will also be assessing the impacts that road closures will have on logistics and our supply chain. We are also in the process of assessing the immediate needs of our farmer customers as they look to address flood damage and implications for livestock etc.

PGW is committed to supporting our customers through this challenging period of damage assessment and the recovery phase. We continue to monitor the situation and we will work with customers to respond to any challenges that may emerge.

Further information on support available and information is available through the following:

For further information about how we can support you with your on-farm needs please contact your local PGW store or representative.


Wool Interview on The Country

29 June 2021
Solid lifts seen sale by sale 

This week The Country's Jamie Mackay is joined by PGG Wrightson's Grant Edwards to look at the wool market this month.

Grant Edwards informs that there have been some considerable lifts in prices seen in recent weeks.
Prices for strong wool are up 18 cents, while prices for good second shears, greasy prices around $2.20-$2.30/kg.

At a sale in Christchurch, prices were up for the good pre lamb full wools at $2.40 – $2.50/kg.
Grant believes the world is waking up to those natural products and people are starting to choose wool more.

Jamie asked if prices are back at pre-covid levels yet and Grant confirmed that prices are trending back to pre-covid levels.

"Fine wools in Australia are seeing considerable lifts and getting back to the highs of two years ago," Edwards said.

"Things are looking good for the New Zealand Merino selling season which will start in late August."
The only glitch in pricing has been in the half-bred types which are used for upholstery - those prices are still being affected by low demand from the hard-hit travel industry of Hotels, Airplanes and Cruise Ships.
Jamie asked how far away are we from a more meaningful price like $5/kg, Grant believes that if prices continue to track in the right direction, we'll get there.

Wool News: Staff profile: Shane Horne - East Coast rep clocking up the mileage

01 July 2021
Photo courtesy of The Gisborne Herald

Shane Horne has been PGG Wrightson wool representative for the East Coast since 2000, having started working for the company in Gisborne in 1988.

“I went straight out of school to drive a forklift in the wool store. My father said at the time: ‘So long as that boy has an engine under his arse, he will be happy,’ which is true, I was.

“Going on the road and down farm driveways 12 years later also suited me. It is a big region and I cover between 50,000 and 80,000 kilometres per annum. Some of the more remote areas are amazing. Waikura Valley, for example, is more than 200 kilometres north of Gisborne, and a long way off the beaten track. Actually going in there and seeing it for myself for the first time was a real eye opener. It is just an incredible spot,” he says.

Shane grew up in Gisborne, with a rural connection through his grandfather who farmed in Palmerston, Otago. In his current role the friendships he makes with clients give Shane the greatest satisfaction.

“It is something you build up over the years by being honest and straight up. You reach a point where clients will leave it up to you how you achieve the best price for their wool. Ideally I tell them what I recommend and they say: ‘If you think that’s a good thing, Shane, just go for it.’

“I always encourage the farmers I work with to practice what we preach about wool. One of my clients recently said to me: ‘You’ll be happy with me, Shane, I just put woollen insulation in my roof.’ Unfortunately, when I asked him what brand, I had to tell him ‘That’s not wool, mate, that’s fibreglass.’ It is a battle trying to combat the way the producers of synthetic fibres can market their product. We need to be smart, though in the long run the trends are going in the right direction for wool,” he says.

On the other hand, land use change in Shane’s region is a concern.

“Forestry is a big challenge, taking land. With what forestry investors are prepared to pay for East Coast farms, we have seen several farmers persuaded by that kind of money. It is a shame to see productive farms planted in trees, and some good land has gone into that recently,” he says.

When he is not working, Shane’s love of the internal combustion engine keeps him busy. A member of the Gisborne American Car Club, he owns a 1970 Cadillac convertible and a 1977 Chrysler Newport Highway Patrol Car, while also rebuilding a 1930 Model A from the shell, an ongoing project.

Buying the cop car, which he found in the South Island, gave Shane a novel way to meet interesting people.

“I went down south to pick it up and drove it home. When I was in Napier filling up with gas, all these motorbikes pulled up onto the forecourt. It was the Mongrel Mob. One of the gang members came over for a look and said: ‘Cool car bro, where are you going?’ Turned out they were heading for Wairoa, so I asked them for an escort.

“Before we reached Gisborne, I was pulled over by the police. It was all friendly: the police were interested in the car, wanting all the details and taking photos. However, while we were talking, the Mob came by on their bikes, and the old boy who I’d spoken to in Napier pulled up, saying: ‘Are those friggin’ cops hassling you, bro? Do you want some back up?’

“The police weren’t hassling me, of course, and we had a good laugh.”

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