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Saffron Cultivation

Saffron Cultivation

Saffron Cultivation

Saffron as a cultivated plant grows from an altitude of sea level to almost 2000 m, although it is more acclimatized to hill sides, plateaus and mountain valleys ranging in altitudes between 600 and 1700 m .The advantage with this crop is that this plant can be cultivated in arid or semiarid areas where the water deficit is extreme in summer. There are different accounts on the origin of saffron from the mountainous regions of Asia Minor to Greece, Western Asia, Egypt or Kashmir .Saffron was known by the Sumerian Civilization(6th  millennium BC) and Greece was the physical bridge for its entry in Europe Polien the Greek historian at 2 BC , has recorded all the spices from the metal column erected infront of the King's palace. Around 2400 BC, there were evidences of its use in colouring tunics in Castile-la-Mancha region of Spain . Saffron became more renowned in Mesopotamia with the development of Babylonian Culture. Several texts speak of its use as a condiment during the reign of Hammurabi (1700 to 1800 BC) and also of the fact that dyes and paints. It is also reported to be important in Acadia culture around 2350 BC. Iranian historians have different theories about the origin of saffron. According to the Iranian history, saffron originated from Zagross and Alvand Mountains. Its oldest evidence dates back to "Achaemenian" an ancient Persian dynasty Saffron finds its name in the oldest text of Kashmir. Also, in the much celebrated ancient cluster of Kashmir,"Rajtarangini" Kalhana includes Kashmiri saffron among those special attributes which according to the people of Kashmir cannot be available even in the paradise. Saffron also finds its mention in Kashmiri records which dates back to 5th  Century BC Iran, Kashmir and Spain are the major saffron producing countries of the world. In Iran, saffron is cultivated in Sourthern Khorasan Province located at an altitude of around 1000 m.Greece, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Morrocco, Italy and France are other saffron producing countries  contributing about  2% to the total global saffron production. I n Greece,   Krokos  Kozani  region  is dedicated  to  saffron cultivation. Sub-mountainous areas between  650  and  llOOm of Aquila,  Cerdena and  Emilia-Romagna  and  San  Gimigiano  are famous  in  Italy for saffron cultivation . In Azerbaijan it is cultivated  on the peninsula  of Apsheron  near Baku in a region of reduced  precipitation (223mm) . In Turkey, Hivan Hapier village, Viran village of Urfa and Saffron  Bolu, are famous for saffron  cultivation. Morocco, saffron is cultivated in several areas around Taliouine located at an altitude between 1200-1400m near the Atlas mountain with extremely low precipitation in the range of 100-200mm

THE PLANT (Taxonomic Classification)

Saffron is classified  into Magnoliophyta Division, Class Litiopsida and Order Asparagales. It is a member of the Iridaceae family and the Crocus  L. genus lridaceae family includes about 60 genera and 1,500 species. The     plants in this family  are  herbs  with rhizomes, corms or bulbs. The Crocus genus includes   approximately   80  species worldwide. There are about 32 species of Crocus genus in Turkey (Vurdu and Guney . There are several features which help to differentiate Crocus species  from each other. The lobe, number of styles, the character of corm tunics, appearance of foliage before or after flowering, number of leaves, the flower colour, and the anther colour are some of these features.
Where & How to Grow  Saffron
Well-drained  loamy soil with neutral  reaction  is best suited  for saffron cultivation.
Land Preparation

Before plantation saffron,  deep ploughing  is done  involving tilling the soil to a depth  of approximately 30 em using bullock/tractor drawn  plough and  planking. Every month  from Jan- Sept ploughing  is done  in the same furrow to achieve required  depth  as well as to keep the field clean. This operation  is not  difficult  to  be  mechanized  using  tractors  and  matching ploughs  and  harrows.  Ploughing   is done  in  the  same  furrow  to  achieve required  depth  as well as to keep the field clean. Operation can be carried out  in August  instead of long operational calendar  being completed  over a period  of 4 months  under  traditional practices. To avoid water stagnation to which saffron  is sensitive, the field is laid out  into 2m wide and 10-20 m long strips across the field slope with 30 cm wide and  15cm deep  drainage  channels  on  both  sides. Earlier, beds were made of 2 x 2m size with drains all around but now long strips are preferred. After bed formation sowing is done  by hand dropping saffron corms behind plough. Estimated cost on account  of land preparation involving draught animals and human  labour amounts to Rs.350. The cost can be reduced by using  bed  planter. Semi-automatic vegetable  transplanter also holds promise.
Sorting  of Corms

Corms with 2.5-3cm diameter weighing 8g and above,  free from injuries and  disease lesions are sorted  out  and  the outer  loose scales are removed before planting
Corm Treatment

To control  corm rot, selected corms are given treatment with Mancozeb 75 W.P@ 0.3% in combination with Carbendazim 50 W.P @ 0.1% before planting. After  sorting, the healthy corms are dipped  in the above fungicidal suspension for a period of 5-10 minutes. The saffron corms are then spread on a cloth  and allowed to dry in shade for a period of 10-15 minutes.  Corm rut can also  be managed using Trichoderma  viridae @ 4g/ kg for initial corm dresing of healthy saffron corms with  initial spore load adjusted.
Corm Planting

Corms are dug in  the  first  fortnight of August  before  emergence of roots Planting  should be completed between Second fortnight of August till first  fort night of September  to give enough   time  for  establishment of roots. Timely plantation ensures first year flowering as per the potential. Delay in  plantation will definitely effect the first year flower yield, however, it does not affect the establishment  of crop.Sprouted corms if planted  get established with loss of apical  bud.  Manual labour  utilized  in  sorting of corms  amounts to a heavy expenditure  of 12500 Rs /ha. Saffron  corms can be sown using planters with some modification to sow large size corms(> 2.0 em).  Sorted corms are planted  in furrows at a spacing of 20x10 demand at a depth of 15 cm.   Furrows are then covered with soil leaving an intra bed drain 7.5 cm deep. The most suitable  machines for this operation are onion planter/potato planter/tulip  planter. Major   drawback  in mechanical deposition of corms in the bed  is the lack of   polarity, corms planted deviant from their vertical axis or upside down  delay in sprouting and a decline in productivity. In Spain, saffron corms are planted  in a mesh cage (width 45 em) on raised beds 1.5 m wide with the help of tulip planter at a density  of 6 lakh corms/  ha. This is meant  to facilitate the subsequent extraction of the corms from the soil at the end of planting cycle. Although the cage system   seems to provide the operator some ease, it has not  met expectation due to tendency of cage to wrap and of the corms to slide inside the cage,  causing variation in planting  density.  Corm  accounts  for single most costly  input in saffron cultivation. At a spacing of 20 x 10 cm about 5lac corms /ha are required with initial corm weight above 8 g/corm  (4 t/ha). In  monetary terms it comes to Rs 5 lakhs/ha at a market  rate of Rs1,25,000/t.

Weeding & hoeing accounts for major labour cost component (35% of the total labour cost). Some 21 weed species stand already identified in saffron fields of Kashmir which need proper control besides damage by rats, resulting in poor saffron corm multiplication & growth. Hoeing is done to  aerate the saffron  beds and  destroy weeds. First hoeing  is done  in June  with short handled  hoe called Zooni. Second  hoeing  is done  in September.  Beds are properly  leveled  by borrowing soil  from  the  drainage channels. Af ter flowering is over weeding is practiced from December  to April to promote daughter corm production. Mechanization  of hoeing will reduce the cost of cultivation making saffron farming more remunerative. Weeders with a tilling width of 3-5 inches (adjustable),working width (18-27 inches) operated through  12-16 tynes is a suitable  substitute for  manual  weeding/hoeing. Technology with an input cost ofRs 400-1200/ha ensures saving ofRs 34,800- Rs 35,600/ha (NAIP,Report,2011).

For higher saffron yields and  production of quality planting  material, application of 90 kgN in the form of urea,60 kg P205  in the form of DAP and  40 kg K2 0 in the form of MOP and half quantity  of nitrogen  is to be applied at the time of second hoeing and  the remaining  half nitrogen  to be applied at the time of third hoeing.

For accelerated growth of roots and floral primordia   the saffron crop should  be sprinkler  irrigated @ 980m3/ha in addition  to 200 mm natural precipitation  received during the period of critical growth (August-October) to be distributed over 14 days cycle@ 140m3Icycle. Sprouting Stage irrigation cycle is distributed  from  20th  August  to 30th September with  a total water requirement .Post flowering  irrigations are recommended from7m  November  to 4m  December  with a requirement of 280 m3lha .
Harvesting  and Drying

Mechanical harvesting is hindered  by three factors namely:

  1. Flower grows just a few centimetres above the soil surface
  2. Flowers usually appear with/Ior after leaf appearance.
  3. Quality is adversely affected  if soil clods get picked up along with the flowers.

Hence mechanical harvesting  of the flowers can damage the foliage & drastically reduce the production of replacement  corms. Saffron flowers are normally handpicked in the early morning hours.  Work  is prolonged  and done in bent  posture.  Effort  in  mechanical  harvesting  will definitely  be economically viable as the input cost is very high. Care has to be taken that the quality of the  product  does  not  get affected. About  90  man  days are required to separate the pistil from saffron  flowers produced  from  1 ha of land. These labour  days are required  in the  month of October-November when the farmers are busy.  Normally saffron  is collected in three  pickings at an interval of 4 days starting  from last fortnight  of October. Efforts have been made to separate the styles from the stamens  and petals by means of a wind tunnel consisting of a variable section pipe which exposes the cut flowers to an air draught  created  by various vortices. In  a simplified  version,  the petals are separated from the stamens  by a fan and  separated  manually or by means of a flat or cylindrical iron screen, but this operation also needs to be completed by hand .
In Kashmir, drying is carried under shade which generally takes 27- 53 hours to dry the product to a safe moisture  level of 8%. Slow drying results in quality deterioration of saffron.  Solar heated  air dryers,  designed  and fabricated in Kashmir, reduce the drying time to 3-4 hours and the product shows pigment concentration very close to that found  in fresh saffron. Hot Air Dryers are specially designed for inclement weather and the farmer can use it indoor. It is a tray dryer. Heated  air at 45 "' 5  ac is circulated  with supplemental heating  using electricity, LPG stove or soft coke.

Saffron is valued for its colour, taste and aroma. The compounds that give it these properties are what define  its quality. Saffron predominantly contains chemical constituents such as crocin, picrocrocin and safranal  which are responsible for its color, flavor and aroma, respectively. Crocetin glycosyl esters responsible for its characteristic colour  and com pounds are found  in extremely important proportion in stigmas ,  being the major carotenoids present that make up about 10% of the dried saffron. Its main feature is that it is hygrophilous which distinguishes it from other fat soluble carotenoids such as capsaicin .The  minority ones include alpha and beta caro te n e,  lycopene and  zeaxanthin as  well  as  conjugated xantho carotenoids .Saffron contains  more  than 150  volatile  and  aroma yielding compounds. Lt also  has many non - volatile active components  many of which are carotenoids including  zeaxanthin,  lycopene and various carotenes.
Saffron contains flavonoids and one of the general characteristic define its this extensive group of compounds is bitterness. The principle element giving bitter taste to saffron is picrocrocin .


Saffron Composition



Value %






Total Nitrogen (%)



Mineral Matter


Total Phosphorous (%)



Raw Fibre


Potassium (%)





Calcium (%)



Total Sugars


Magnesium (%)





Iron (mg/kg)





Manganese (mg/kg)





Copper  (mg/kg)



Xylose and ramnose


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Gumd & dextrins





Essential Oil










Saffron its extracts and  tinctures have been  used  in traditional medicine as an antispasmodic,  eupeptic, sedative,  carminative, diaphoretic, expectorant, stomachic, stimulant,  aphrodisiac, emenagogue and  abortive agents  . It has also been  used for the  treatment of ocular and  cutaneous conditions,   lowering blood pressure, for  wounds, fractures and joint pain; to prevent  plague and other epidemics; to cure anaemia, migranes and insomnia,  promoting and  regulating menstrual periods  and for treatment of respiratory disorders. It is known for its anti-gastric effects, anti-diabetic activity, anti-convulsion and   antidepressant  remedy, anti­ inflammatory effect,  antigen-toxic effect, antioxidant  activity ,anti-tumoural and anti-carcinogenic    and  its  cytotoxic and anti-mutagenic effects  have also been  reported.  It is also used as a tonic and promoter of defenses in Ayurvedic  medicine, for disorders of central  nervous system   in  Chinese  medicine and   for  homeopathic preparations. Oral  administration of saffron may be useful  for treatment for neuro degenerative disorders and  related  memory impairment. It is reported that  crocin isolated  from  saffron exhibits anti-apoptotic action in PG12 cells treated with  daunorubicin. Saffron finds its use in the perfumery and cosmetic industry, besides, the most important current use in food industry. This  spice forms  a part  of some of the best known traditional dishes. It is used to dye high textiles manufactured with silk, cotton or wool . As a dye, it is also utilized  in combination with  hematoxylin, erythrosine and others to achieve human and animal histological staining. In Kashmir, saffron has a long history of being used in culinary (Kashmiri cusine, wazwaan) and Kashmiri tea (Kehwa).lt is also widely used in confectionary, alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages, colouring agent for sa usages, oleomargarines,  dairy products such as butter, cheese and ice cream for color and flavour improvement
Quality Standards
Saffron being the most expensive spice by weight, there is a need for standards to safeguard the authenticity of this precious commodity. Saffron is graded via laboratory measurement of crocin (colour), picrocrocin (taste), and safranal (fragrance) content. Determination of non-stigma content (floral waste content) and other extraneous matter such as inorganic material (ash) are also key. Grading standards are set by the International Organization for Standardization, a federation of National Standards Bodies.  ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is the world’s largest developer of voluntary International Standards. International Standards give state of the art specifications for products, services and good practice, helping to make industry more efficient and effective. It is an independent,  non­ governmental organization made up of members from the National Standards Bodies of 164 countries, having a Central Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, that coordinates the system. Developed through global consensus, they help to break down barriers to international trade. Saffron normalization is done within the Committee 34 of ISO (TC 34: Food products),  Spices Board Chairman from India holds the Chairmanship of this Committee which is under the Bureau of Indian  Standards (BIS), New Delhi.ISO (International Organization for Standardization) has established the technical specification ISO/TS 3632 2003 (PART 1 and 2 regarding saffron  specifications and testing methods respectively).The ISO standard for saffron has been altered three times (1980,1993 and 2003) since its initial creation in 1975.
The physical criteria of saffron  is as per ISO 3632
Saffron quality and purity will be better certified if the level  of most descriptive and demanding parameters are maintained within the safe limits of ISO standards. After post harvest handling,  packaging for storage is themost critical factor ensuring better shelf life . ISO 3632 ENVISAGES That the saffron in filaments, cut filaments and powder forms shall have to be packed in rigid, sealed, clean and sound  containers made of material which cannot affect the product  quality and protects it from environmental effects. The packaging shall comply with any food grades materials and  environmental protection. Independent of the requirements specified in National  regulation, the following special indications shall have to be inscribed directly or on a label on each shipping container:-
i)   Product  name and presentation form, and botanical  name ;
ii) Name and address of the producer or packager, and where necessary, the mark or trade appellation;
iii) Batch number;
iv) Net mass;
v)  Product category
vi)  Country of production;
vii)  Best before date ;
viii) Storage conditions ;
ix) Any other information requested by the buyer, such as the harvest year and packaging date (if known) ;
x) Reference to this part of ISO/CD 3632-1 (optional).
How to maintain standards
In  Kashmir  saffron  is marketed  in  two grades viz lacha (Saffron in Filaments) and mongra (Saffron in cut Filaments). Despite attempts of quality control and standardization, an extensive history of saffron adulteration particularly among the cheapest grades-continues into modern  times. Typical methods  include  mixing in extraneous  substances like beets, pomegranate, fibres, red dried  silk fibers  or  the  saffron  crocus  tasteless and  odourless yellow stamens.  Other  methods  included  dousing saffron  fibers with viscid substances like honey or vegetable oil. However powdered saffron is more prone  to adulteration with  turmeric,  paprika  and  other  powders used  as diluting fillers. Adulteration can also consist of selling mislabelled mixes  of different saffron grades. Thus,  in India high grade Kashmiri saffron is often sold and mixed with cheaper Iranian imports; these mixes are then marketed as pure Kashmiri saffron  ,a development that  has caused Kashmiri  growers much of their income. To ensure safe limits of all constituent as per ISO standards for export promotion establishment of a Saffron Park with NABL accredited Laboratory, Processing  unit  ,drying   unit   ,  packaging   unit  and  e-trading centre  is important. The saffron  park  can serve a model  training  centre  for Hitech saffron processing.
Process   Envisaged for  the Saffron Park

  1. Current production of saffron  from the cultivated Saffron  area to be used as a bench value
  2. Targeted dry  saffron  production projected  at the  end  of the  12th  plan
  3. Saffron flowers are harvested within a span of 3-4weeks in the month of Oct-Nov
  4. 1 kg of dry saffron  is extracted  from 1,60,000  to 1, 70,000  flowers
  5. The saffron  flowers are plucked  in a span  of 2-3 days so that  the flowers are mature.
  6. One fresh saffron flower weighs 250-300 mg
  7. One kg of fresh saffron  flower contains  3000-3500  flowers
  8. One kg of saffron flower yield 80-90 g of wet saffron
  9. One kg of fresh saffron flowers yield 20-25 g dry saffron
  10. One person takes 3-4 hours to separate stigma from one kg of saffron
  11. Farmers shall transport the saffron  to the docking yard of the saffron park
  12. The flowers  shall be transferred in crates so that the entire  internal processes including  storage shall be standardized ,Administration office shall register flower quantity with other details ,The farmer  shall  be allotted  one  of the  25 cubicles  .
  13. Rest of the dried  saffron shall go to the storing area  that latter can be extracted after e-auction or farmer shall take it with himself for external  trading.
  14. There  would be provision to pack the dried saffron  in the packing unit as per the demand  of the buyer which shall range from  plain packs to decorative  packing that  include  bottles, crystal packs
  15. Storage area will be a part of a holding areas before dispatch  of the produce.

Design of the Saffron Park
The entire facility is designed to achieve efficiency in process flow. Aim is to standardize processes right from the onset of receiving the flowers until the packaging of the saffron for its dispatch to the markets. The construction material  and  process  are  designed  so  that  we achieve  the  best  practices including  good  manufacturing practices  (GMP), HACCP for catering  to food safety and  ISO 17025 for the quality lab to assess saffron  as per ISO 3632-2:2010. This  will ensure  the  acceptability of saffron  in international and domestic  markets.
a)  Docking Bay
This  is the parking area of the vehicles that con1e with saffron flowers
b)  Docking yard
The vehicles from the parking area shall move into the docking yard.
c)  Docking station
i. To transfer  flowers in standard  crates so that  internal  handling  is standardized and used for storage in case the flowers are not to be processed  immediately.
u.            The  flowers shall  be visually graded  and  put  into  corresponding crates
111.   The  crates shall be palletized and  moved into  cubicles with hand driven  trolleys
iv.   The  flowers  crates  shall  be weighed  and  given  a tag (bar  code)consisting of farmers details for ensuring  traceability
v.            The docking yard administration shall issue a cubicle to the grower/ aggregator for processing.
d)  Modular processing unit  (Cubicle)

  1. The farmer I aggregator shall use the allocated cubicle.
  2. The workers shall enter  the respective allocated cubicle
  3. First entry  of workers would be to the changing  area wherein  they would cleanse themselves with sanitizer and wear protective clothing like head cap and apron.
  4. After changing the  workers shall  pass through  the  air curtain   to clean themselves of foreign material.
  5. The workers shall receive the flowers through  trolleys for processing and extra flowers,  if any shall be put  into  the small holding  area that shall be air cooled to preserve the flowers.
  6. The processed wet saffron  shall be moved in trays to drying  area where vacuum driers will be provided for quick and quality drying.
  7. The dried saffron  then  shall be moved into quality control  area and or store for assessing the grade as per IS 3632 standard.
  8. Once  extracted,  the  stigmas   need  to  be  dried   quickly   before decomposition  or mould shall effect the produce. The drying method is determinant of saffron quality  and  price in the  world  market. Various studies have been conducted for comparison  of the effects of saffron dehydration methods, like vacuum oven,  freeze, microwave and solar drying with traditional method.  Though hot air drying  and  vacuum  drying  are considered   the  best,  however vacuum drying  is ideal for  materials  that  would  be damaged  or changed    if  exposed  to  high  temperatures. Unlike  atmospheric drying, drying  under   reduced  pressure  lowers the  boiling  point and provides a greater temperature difference  between the heating medium and product. This results in faster drying and more efficient.
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