After a record 12 months which has led to the company picking up a variety of accolades, including being named Best Beef in the World by the highly regarded Forbes.com, First Light is looking for farmers to join its team of finishers.
The producer group, with a company head office in Hawke's Bay, entered the market with grass-fed wagyu beef in 2011 and is now nationwide with more than 25,000 head.
Ten years on, the company is expanding its farmer numbers to keep up with both domestic and international demand for the product, which has surged. First Light won gold in the World Steak Challenge in London last year and its beef is the key ingredient in Los Angeles burger restaurant HiHo Cheeseburger's premium burger, which has won Best Burger in LA Magazine's Burger Bracket two years running.
Now, the First Light team has opened up the gates for a limited number of new farmers/finishers to buy wagyu-cross calves from their impending spring weaner release.
"We know the biggest benefits to farmers are a short, transparent supply chain and income stability," First Light general manager wagyu Matt Crowther said.
"Payments are known upfront, based on a set per kilogram price, modelled off established market returns. We set pricing 12 months ahead. This year, on average, our shareholders get more than $7/kg. It's about 20per cent over commodity on average, so that's breaking into a new bracket, which has been our aim for the last five years.
"We know many farmers are fed up with the status quo of commodity beef. They want to be rewarded for individual quality and performance, not to be averaged and reliant on a volatile commodity market, so on that basis, we pay on quality measured by marbling — so we reward effort to produce a top-quality animal.
"Ideally we're getting them up to weight and then giving them another three months of conditioning.
"We are incentivising carcass weight and finish — 20c/kg premiums for steers and heifers over certain weights — so we've seen the average carcass weight climb about 12kg so far this year alone."
The push for more finishers is happening now because First Light is actively growing its supply base every year.
"We've been growing organically up until now, but the rapid growth phase has hit that hockey stick curve now. We've learned a lot about growing wagyu so it's time to expand our base. We are also receiving increasing inquiries from bull farmers who are fed up with managing bulls.
"Five years ago we were still the new faces. Now we have some real recognition in the market — and we're looking for more progressive farmers to partner with us and help move us to the next level."
Calves will be available from October to January.
"Our current supply base is spread from Northland to Southland with particularly strong growth in the South Island," says Crowther.
Established in 2003 by Gerard Hickey, Greg Evans and Jason Ross, First Light is New Zealand's only commercial producer of 100 per cent grass-fed wagyu beef. They set out to create the world's best grass-fed meat that delivers on flavour and succulence without any shortcuts, unnatural substances or interventions of industrialised production. To achieve that, First Light developed a value chain model to produce and deliver grass-fed wagyu beef directly from the farm to the person who presents or consumes the steak.