Saffron is placed in the most expensive spice across the world and is thus called Red Gold. Saffron cultivation does not need much effort and is ready to harvest in 3-4 months. Farmers can make a big profit from saffron farming as its worldwide demand is higher than supply. The botanical name of saffron is Crocus cartwrightianus and commercially cultivate saffron is botanically known as Crocus sativus.
The use of saffron ranges from food to medicine and cosmetics. Saffron is used as flavors and coloring in milk desserts and Mughlai cuisine. For medical purposes, it is used to treat arthritis, infertility, liver enlargement, and fever in Ayurveda and is used to make perfumes and cosmetics. Saffron is known as various local such as Kesar in Hindi, kong in Kashmiri, Jafran in Bengali, Punjabi, Urdu, kumnkuma Kesari in Kannada, kumkuma puvvu in Telugu, kungumapoo in Tamil, keshara, kunkuma, Asrika, Aruna, Asra in Sanskrit
Statistics on saffron farming
The major saffron-producing countries are Iran, India, Spain, and Greece where Iran contributes about 88% of the world's saffron production. The total production of saffron is around 300 tons per year across the world. India is the 2nd largest saffron producing country and contributes 7% of the total world production whereas Spain is the 3rd largest producer.
In India, Jammu and Kashmir is the largest saffron producer which occupies 3715 hectares of the area under saffron cultivation with the production of 16 MT and productivity of 3.0 - 4.0 kg/ha respectively. Four major districts in Jammu and Kashmir under saffron cultivation are Pulwama, Budgam, Srinagar and kishtwar.
Saffron price in India is around 3 to 3.5 lakhs rupees per kg.
Climate for saffron farming
Saffron is a warm subtropical crop that can grow at 2000 meters above sea level. 12 hours of sunlight is desirable for saffron cultivation. Low temperature with high humidity affects flowering whereas spring rain rise the production of new corms.
In India, saffron corms are grown between June and July, and in some areas, it is grown between august and September. It begins to flower in October. It requires intense heat and dryness in summer while extreme cold in winter.
Winters of Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu, and Kashmir are the best conditions for saffron development.
Soil for saffron farming
Soil ranging from acidic to neutral, gravelly, loamy, and sandy soils are best suitable for saffron farming. Well-drained soil having pH 6 to 8 is recommended. Heavy clay soils should be avoided.
Plough the land thoroughly and make soil brittle before seed sowing. Before final plowing, apply 20 tonnes of cow dung, 90 kg of nitrogen, 60 kg of phosphorus, and 60 kg of potassium per hectare and plough the land thoroughly.
Planting in saffron farming
Planting material is corms ( underground compressed stems) is saffron farming. In India, 3 varieties of saffron are cultivated :
Aquilla saffron: Aquilla saffron is an Iranian variety and is cultivated in Italy. The thread length of Aquila saffron is shorter because plants are shorter. Aquilla saffron is slightly less red than Kashmiri saffron. It is less costly than Kashmiri saffron and is produced in bulk, hence it is plentiful in the market. Creme saffron:Creme saffron's quality is lower than Kashmiri or Iranian variety and is used in the US and other countries. It is the cheapest variety present in the market and floral waste in creme saffron is higher, it consists of a lot of yellow parts of the style. Lacha saffron: Lacha saffron is the top quality saffron variety and is cultivated only in the soil of Kashmir. The strands have dark crimson red, flavour, aroma and colour of Lacha saffron is unique and this distinguishes it from other varieties and make it special worldwide. It is only found in India and is the most expensive variety available in the market.
12-15 cm depth of pits are dug and around 10cm spacing should be maintained between plant to plant, saffron corms are planted directly in the main field.
The surface of the soil is left loose for better flourish. Compact packing restricts air circulation.
Irrigation is not needed after planting however in case of prolonged drought during the hot season, irrigation should be done.
There is no requirement for water during light rain. If not rain, irrigation should be done twice or thrice in 15 days. Waterlogging should be avoided in the field otherwise if proper management is not done, crops will be damaged.
The Saffron plant is affected by saffron thistle weeds. Sawdust is used to mulch the plants to control weed growth. Weedicides are used to eliminate complete weeds in saffron fields.
Repeated saffron farming on the same land affects the fertility of the soil and thus it is advisable that after the first round of saffron farming, there should not be the cultivation of saffron for the next 8-10 years. In crop rotation, beans have been found effective and as a result, it increases crop yield and corm size of saffron.
Harvesting and drying of saffron
Saffron begins flowering after three to four months of planting. Flowering starts in October.
It is said that harvesting of flowers must be done between sunrise and 10 AM as this time flowers are in the bloom stage.
Stigma strands are extracted from flowers.
Keep stigma strands under the sundry for five to six days. In the case of solar driers, it takes 7-8 hours to dry. After drying it is packed in airtight containers and kept away from sunlight for at least 1 month before its consumption.
Yield from saffron farming
For obtaining 1 gm of dried saffron, 150 to 160 saffron flowers are needed.