Saffron Cultivation and Farming in India

Can saffron be grown in india

The best quality saffrons are grown in Kashmir India. The soil  and weather of kashmir is gifted for growing saffron among many other crops. Saffron, particularly, has been an identity of Kashmir farmers. The saffron cultivated in Kashmir was always considered the best in terms of quality and fetched a premium price. Food lovers and chefs from all around the world identified the best saffron from where it was grown and in almost all cases, these saffron came from 2 destinations. Kashmir and then iran. The best quality saffron in the year 2020 was for saffron cultivated in Kashmir.

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The type of saffron cultivated in Kashmir is called Lacha or Mongra. They have dark purple flowers with maroonish filaments, which is the darkest in the saffron flowers. These flowers are extremely rare and only cultivated in Kashmir, which makes the kashmiri saffron particularly expensive.

Saffron is cultivated in other parts of India too but with limited success and most importantly very poor quality. The soil conditions and weather play a key to saffron quality. As many kashmiris would like to say, the land is gifted for saffron cultivation. The flowers may grow elsewhere but the quality of kashmiri saffron cannot be compared if grown anywhere else or with any other methods.

Areas which have tried to cultivate saffron in India with limited success includes Tamil Nadu, Karnataka (banglore), Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kerala. Unfortunately , there has been very limited success in growing saffron in these areas. A bit of success has been seen by various farmers who have indulged in aeroponics and inhouse/indoor saffron cultivation. The quality of these saffrons are questionable.

If you intend to farm saffron indoors, be aware that saffron cultivated indoors may not have the same quality and will not fetch the price you expect. 

Saffron cultivation in world

Saffron is cultivated in very few countries. A major chunk of cultivation happens in iran. Iran Cultivates 160,000 KG of saffron every year. The second largest producer is India with 8000 to 10000 kg per year. There is a massive difference in the saffron production from Iran to other countries in the world and India is the second largest producer of saffron. All other countries produce a very miniscule amount of saffron. For instance, Greece, Spain and Azerbaijan have the next few spots in production and produce less than 1000 KG with only Greece producing over 4000 Kilos per year.

With the increasing demand there have been a lot of challenges too. For instance, counterfeit saffron hit the market in 2010 in Spain with 150,000 Kilos of saffron exported from Spain while the production was less than 1500 kg. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world and counterfeit saffron is a racket in itself. 

Saffron cannot be cultivated in just about any place. The right climatic condition and soil is crucial for saffron cultivation. Creating the best saffron requires these conditions to be met apart from the right variety. This is where kashmiri farmers succeed.

Saffron cultivation and emerging trends in production

With the increase in demand and the high price of Saffron, Many farmers tried the latest technologies in farming to cultivate saffron. Hydroponic saffron farming is getting a lot of interest in the international market. Many places in india an abroad use hydroponics and layered vertical farming for production of saffron. There has been some success in this area and a lot of education , training and knowledge is required for hydroponic farming of saffron.

This is a profitable model and there is scope for vertical farming in saffron cultivation. Unfortunately, it requires a lot of training and knowledge about hydroponics. Is it a feasible model? The production of flowers in saffron is limited. Every plant produces up to 3 flowers. In a hydroponic model this is not going to be different. With no hybrid saffrons in the market, you cannot expect higher yield just by producing saffron using a different method.

There is also a drawback when it comes to quality. The quality of a saffron which is produced naturally in places like kashmir cannot be simply replicated with hydroponics or any latest technology. 

Saffron cultivation at home

Well this is a possibility. Growing saffron at home is not easy but if you are a hobbyist, Growing saffron at home in a pot or a small patch is possible. Care and attention to detail is key to success. Don’t try to grow saffron in your garden. Apart from the fact that these flowers  are very seasonal and bloom only one week a year, the care required is entirely different to those of the other plants. Saffron requires a clean area with no weed and preferably no other plants nearby. 

While growing saffron in a pot is surely possible and has been done, it’s all about how much care you give to the plant. Do not expect to get saffron out of these plants for commercial purposes and even for your own culinary needs. The yield is minimal. Single flower produces just 3 filaments of saffron. You would need a lot of pots to get some decent amount of saffron for your culinary needs.

Cultivation of Saffron in Kashmir, India

Kashmiri farmers farm saffron traditionally. They have a time, pattern and practice of doing saffron farming. The field should have full sunlight and be free from trees or shade of any kind. Saffron farming is a time consuming, labour intensive skilled practice. Unlike other farming, Care is required in every single step of farming saffron. Being a high value product also requires saffron to be handled carefully. A mistake could reduce yield or render the entire product unusable or of low quality.

To begin with, the weather is key. 18-30 centigrade is the right temperature for saffron cultivation. Farmers plough the field 15 to 30 centimeter deep. All weeds, stones and grass are manually removed. Presence of weed should be completely eliminated. All plants do need some kind of fertilizer but Saffron cultivation limits fertilizers to as much as it needs. Urea is often used but the basal fertilizer is manure at 8 to 16 tonnes per hectare every 3 years. The manure should be clean from any weeds, seeds and other probably infectious ingredients. Use of composted manure is best suited for saffron cultivation.

Once the manure is applied, the field needs to be ploughed again after the seasonal rains. 

Bulbs are particularly important for the quality of saffron. Any bulb below the weight of 6 grams should be discarded. Any bulb with possible infection or injury should also be discarded.

Saffron are planted in rows 5-10 centimeter between plants and 20-30 centimeter between rows.  Beds are created at 5 X 10meters of 6X10 meters. The bulbs are planted with the node facing upwards at a depth of approximately 15 centimeters. Planting is usually done in the month of June  / July . 

Flood irrigation is practiced in saffron farming in kashmir. A full 5 day flood irrigation in the month of september , usually the last week of september. Irrigation should happen only when the fields are completely cleaned. Trovel the field with forks to ensure penetration of water, aeration. No grass, weed or gravel should be allowed before irrigation. 

Harvesting is a key season for saffron farmers. Saffron flowers usually bloom altogether during the season. The entire field will be filled with flowers for just a week and picking these flowers early in the morning ensures the best quality. Workers are required to have clean hands, covered head and preferably masked. No chemicals are allowed while plucking the flowers. Hands should be washed with soap and hand sanitizers should be avoided.

Picking starts before sunrise and flowers should be picked in plastic baskets. Plastic bags should be avoided. Many farmers use plastic sacks. This practice should be avoided for better quality control. Once the flowers are picked, they should be transported to a room for cleaning and separation.

Separation also happens in a hygienic environment. The flowers are separated from the petals, filament and stamen. The filament is key ingredient and the quality is determined by how the filament is processed. Only the red area of the filament seperated is considered the highest quality and priced accordingly. The entire filament with the root  area is one level lower and fetches a bit lesser in price. 

The filament once seperated should be dried. Electric dryers specially for drying saffron are available today. Traditionally oak wood and coal were used to dry saffron and the practice is delicate and requires patience. The right temperature is key and the saffron should be held at a safe distance from the coal for 20 minutes for the right results. Saffron is harvested in the months of October and november. 

Saffron Production Per acre in india

Average yield of saffron per acre is 1.8 kg. That’s just enough gold in a plastic bag. It takes 150 flowers to get 1 gram of saffron. In comparison , Cumin yield is 600 kilos per acre and nutmeg give 350 kilos per acre. In comparison saffron stands at a very miniscule scale. The very limited yield also is the reason for its high price. Today kashmir has approximately 3150 hectares of area in saffron cultivation and diminishing daily. Lack of poor rain, Global warming and adulterated saffron in the market have been the key reasons for farmers abandoning saffron farming.