Saffron Farming Complete Project Report
The red coloured thread like spice that we often use in every dessert to make it look more attractive and delicious. What is it?
Yes, you are right! It’s ‘Saffron’ also known as Kesar or Zafran. The spice is majorly used as a colouring agent in different dishes and for flavour or seasoning purpose. The spice is used in many traditional and medical purposes because of its antiseptic, antispasmodic, anticancer and antidepressant properties.
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It is also used for curing respiratory problems as a herbal treatment. Also, it is added in perfumes for its aroma and used as a dye in the textile industry. In India, people believe to take it along with milk during pregnancy for getting a glowing skin of the newborn baby.
Saffron is the most expensive spice in the whole world because of the intense labour required in the harvesting of this crop and is popularly known as Red Gold. It can be grown anywhere in the world because the cultivation process is easy but the harvesting process is extremely difficult.
Here we will see about its cultivation and harvesting process.
General Description of Saffron
Saffron is derived from the dry stigmata of the female flower of the plant named ‘Crocus sativus’ belonging to the Iradaceae family. It is bulbous, perennial plant having globular corms which can grow upto a height of 15 to 20 cm. The corms or bulbs are the reproductive part of the flower that gives rise to 2 or 3 new flowers every year. The plant has an adventitious root system where stemless, narrow, long and dark green coloured leaves and the flowers are born. The aerial part of the plant gets lost during the winter season.
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Saffron is known to have originated in Greece. The crop is mostly grown in Mediterranean regions having hot summers and cold winters including Spain, Austria, England, Iran, France, Greece and Turkey.
But Nowadays, it is cultivated almost everywhere in the world and the farmers are creating a good source of income from it by growing it commercially. In India, it is mainly cultivated in Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
The flowers of the plant are divided into three branches consisting of six petals, three stamens and three red orange stigmas. The flowers vary in colour from purple to lilac and red. The stigma part of the flowers are collected and dried to sell it commercially which is used as a seasoning spice or a colouring agent in the food processing industries and in homes.
Growing Saffron is not hard but collecting it from large amounts of female flowers requires too much labour cost and they can be harvested only once in a span of a few years and that’s the reason why it’s so expensive. There are about 1.6 to 1.7 lakhs of tiny flowers in 1 kg of Saffron which needs so much time and labour to harvest it. However, it can be grown anywhere indoors, in pots, greenhouse or polyhouse, backyards, containers and even in hydroponics.
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Uses & Health Benefits of Saffron
Saffron is a sweet smelling spice herb which has a strong aroma but a bitter taste. It is used in culinary purposes and to get colour in cottage cheese, biryani, meats, liquors, cordials, breads, confectioneries, cakes and Mughlai dishes. Also on a commercial basis it is used in perfumes and cosmetics due to its aroma.
Some of its health benefits are:
- It contains several kinds of important nutrients including Vitamin C, Ascorbic acid, etc which helps in improving the immune system and producing WBCs.
- It increases metabolism and acts as an effective energy booster.
- It protects from various heart related problems such as heart attacks, atherosclerosis and strokes.
- It regulates blood sugar, glucose and insulin levels and also prevents diabetes.
- It also gives relief from mild depression and works as a mood freshener.
- It improves bone health and function of the nervous system.
- It helps in treating arthritis, gout, sports injuries and other inflammatory problems.
- It boosts the healing speed of topical healing of wounds and bruises.
- It is also used in treating fever, impotence and infertility.
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Varieties/Cultivars of Saffron
The stigma of the Saffron flower contains three active ingredients i.e crocin, safranal, and picrocrocin that are responsible for the colour, aroma and flavour of the plant respectively. The quality and value of the crop relies on the depth of its colour. The major varieties of Saffron includes:
- Mongra (Lacha) Saffron – This variety is rich in texture and darkest of all varieties having dark crimson red threads and grows well in Kashmiri soils which are rarely found outside India.
- Kashmiri Saffron – The best Saffron in the world with a rich colour, aroma and flavour, also being very expensive.
- Spanish Superior Saffron & Creme Saffron – These are the lower quality Saffron commonly cultivated in America and other countries, being less effective and expensive than the other varieties.
- Aquila Saffron – The safranal and crocin content is high but threads are light red and short in length compared to mongra variety and hence the price is less than Mongra Saffron. It is exclusively cultivated in the Navelli valley and Sardinia regions of Italy and it is grown in bulk with the largest production and export that covers the world market. This Saffron is majorly cultivated by Iran.
- Persian Saffron
- Organic Saffron
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Ideal Conditions for Saffron Farming
Saffron can be cultivated anywhere; it just needs fertile soil for commercial production, and a good climate having a long photoperiod and a dry moist soil.
For good cultivation, the plant requires sunny and cold days with temperatures ranging from -15 to 35 degrees celsius. They mostly prefer warm, dry summers, cold winters, autumn and spring rainfall. They can tolerate heat upto 40 °C. Tropical and polar types of climate are not suitable for saffron cultivation.
It thrives well in warm subtropical climate and can be grown at 2000 metres above sea level with 12 hours of photoperiod (sunlight). During the flowering season, low temperature with high humidity and spring rains can boost up the production of new corms.
Saffron grows well in acidic to neutral, gravelly, loamy and sandy types of soils with a well drainage facility and pH of 6 to 8. Heavy clayey soils are to be avoided in Saffron Farming.
Season for Saffron Cultivation
Saffron corms are cultivated during June and July months in India and somewhere in August and September also. It starts flowering within 3 to 4 months of planting and if planted in June it will start flowering in October. It requires extreme warmth during summer and extreme cold during the winter months and the maximum vegetative growth takes place during winter months.
Propagation in Saffron Farming
The propagation is mainly done through compressed underground stems known as ‘corms’ for producing Saffron commercially.
Land Preparation & Planting of Saffron
The land should be ploughed 2 to 3 times, to make it free of previous crop debris, stones, rocks, soil clods and weeds. Ploughing makes the soil become loose and the subsoil comes to the surface thereby increasing the fertility of the soil.
Before cultivation, Farmyard manure and Organic content is mixed with the soil. Saffron corms are cultivated both in the field and in pots. The corms are planted with a depth of 12 to 15 cm maintaining a space of 10 to 12 cm between them. Irrigation is not required after sowing the corms, but can be done based upon the requirement or soil moisture content if there has been a long dry hot season or drought.
The best practice to be followed in Saffron Farming is Raised bed with each bed raised upto 20 to 35 cm height and a width of each seedbed to be 60 to 80 cm leaving 25 cm of space between each bed so as to navigate along with the farm for the purpose of weeding or other activities.
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Saffron crop requires very little water but the soil should be kept slightly moist, not completely dry, for optimum growth.In case of erratic rains, sprinkler irrigation is preferred. For every 1 acre of land, about 283 cubic metres of water should be distributed throughout the period of Saffron cultivation.
Weekly Irrigation upto 10 weeks is recommended for optimum growth, the first 7 being very crucial for vegetative growth & flowering that should be done at the pre flowering stage and remaining 3 after the flowering stage.
Crop Rotation with Saffron
Cultivating Saffron in the same field repeatedly affects the soil making it infertile and sowing of beans has been found effective in Saffron farms to increase the fertility of the soil and for also increasing the corm size. It is generally advised not to cultivate Saffron for 8 to 10 years after one round of Saffron Farming.
Weeds like Saffron thistle which are prickly, hard and stocky plants with sharp spines often compete with the crop for nutrition and sunlight that can cause injury too. To control the growth of weeds, Mulching is preferred. Plants should be mulched with saw dust and weedicides can also be applied.
Fertilisers in Saffron Cultivation
A well decomposed 35 tonnes of Farmyard manure is applied in the field before plantation. N:K:P @ 20:30:80 kg per hectare is annually applied in autumn and immediately after flowering for better growth.
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Pests & Diseases in Saffron Cultivation
The pests include Porcupines, Rabbit and Rodents.
The major diseases affecting Saffron crop are:
- Fusarium wilt – The base of the stem and corm rot during flowering period, also making the shoots Yellow and wilt away.
- Violet Root Rot – The leaves appear to be chlorotic spreading the infection rapidly throughout the plant, also wilting and drying the plants.
- Rhizoctonia crocorum – Violet coloured film like mycelia is grown on the plant and the infection is spread from the leaves towards the base, rotting away the roots and wilting of the plants.
To control them, one should fence their field to protect from predators, destroy the tunnels and their habitat, and contact the local horticulture department.
Harvesting, Drying & Storage in Saffron Cultivation
Harvesting is the only thing that makes this spice so costly. The plants start flowering within 3 to 4 months of planting them and if it is planted in June, it would start flowering in October and last for a month.
Harvesting should be done when the flowers reach the full bloom stage and should be harvested at the early morning between sunrise and 10 a.m because it ensures high quality Saffron stigmas or threads at this time. They are collected in baskets of reed, bamboo, willow or rattan to avoid flower contamination.
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After harvesting, collect the red pistils from the flowers carefully. These are then dried under the sun for about 5 days and then it is packed in airtight containers. The filaments can also be dried by putting the pistils on a sieve in a well ventilated place in 45 to 60 degrees Celsius temperature for about 15 minutes. The top thread is dark red and bottom is dark orange in colour. These threads are then cooled up and wrapped in tissue or foil papers and then kept in airtight jars. Fresh Saffron doesn’t have any taste and it should be kept away from light for at least 1 month before consumption.
Yield in Saffron Cultivation
Saffron reduces extremely during the drying stage. About 500g of Saffron dries to 100g. About 150 to 160 Saffron flowers are required to make 1 gram of dried Saffron.
During the 1st year of plantation, 60 to 65% of corms will produce 1 flower each and thereafter 2 flowers each in subsequent years. Under good cultivation, healthy flowers of about 1.5 lakhs will produce 1 kg of dry Saffron threads, depending upon the corm quality. Saffron is sold in grams all over the world.
Saffron is the most expensive spice because of its harvesting process and is the only spice that is used in many ways including cooking, baking, industrial & medicinal use, cosmetics, dyes, dairy, tobacco, perfumes, and alcohol industries as well. Saffron threads should not be broken to get better value in the market.
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It should be slightly moist and full length with vivid crimson colour and elasticity. The spice can be stored for a long duration and can be sold to many industries, and directly to the end users also through social media and online marketing, making huge profits.