Saffron (Crocus sativus)


Saffron is a highly valued spice that comes from the stamens (male flower parts) of the autumn flowering crocus. To harvest saffron, the flowers are picked before they open naturally, and then opened by hand to remove the stamens. These are then dried, either in the sun or with the use of cool forced air drying, before being packaged and sold. To get 1kg of dried saffron, means harvesting somewhere between 70,000 and 200,000, individual flowers.

The main areas of Saffron production across the world are India and Pakistan where labour rates are lower. An industry is emerging in New Zealand with nearly 100 people actively growing the crop on a small scale.

Growing Saffron

Propagation: Saffron bulbs can be planted in spring.
Yields/ha: Somewhere between 70,000 and 200,000 flowers to produce 1kg of Saffron. This equates to 6–20kg/ha
Harvest: March/April sometimes even into May on cold sites.
Soil type: Free draining; best to grow the crop on raised beds.
Fertilisers: General fertiliser.
Weed control: Perennial weeds such as clover are a problem in beds. Herbicides can be used when the crop is dormant but care must be taken. A desiccant spray is better to use in this situation rather than a hormonal spray.
Pest/Diseases: No obvious diseases have been observed on the Crops for Southland bulbs but watch for rots on bulbs being grown on slightly wetter ground.
Rabbits have been known to dig up the bulbs and chew on the foliage. Rabbit netting around the outside of a block is an effective control.
Harvesting: Harvest means bending down a lot. Flowers are picked daily, removing those just about to open. They should be chilled until they can be processed and the stamens removed. Stamens then need to be dried.
Marketing: Spice exports may be difficult due to the volume of overseas product. The main market is most likely to be self selling through Farmers Markets or the local fresh restaurant trade. See 'Country Patch' below as an example of someone direct selling.

Further Information