Saffron has a long history as a spice, medicine and dyestuff, dating back thousands of years to the dawn of civilisation. It is widely recognised as the world's most expensive spice, though only a very small amount is needed for most recipes. The reason for its high price is that saffron is very land-and labour-intensive. An acre of flowers produces just 3.63 to 4.54 Kilogram of dried saffron, and each flower must be harvested by hand before the stamens are carefully hand-plucked. This favours producers such as Iran, where labour costs are low.
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Calculate your labour costs. An Iranian study estimates that 200 man-hours of labour are needed to cultivate one hectare of saffron, approximately 2 1/2 acres. This is does not include the cost of processing the saffron, which is considerable. Labour cost is a major factor in viability of saffron start-up.
Select a suitable growing climate. Saffron likes spring rains, then hot and dry weather for the rest of the growing season. Rain at harvest time can ruin or reduce the entire year's production.
Consider the cost of land. Most growing areas report an average yield of 4.54kg. of saffron per acre under cultivation. Your yields must cover the cost of the land and the labour, as well as processing and marketing.
Manage the growing cycle. Saffron is a perennial, generating new corms (bulbs) every year, which must be separated and replanted. A given field is most productive in its third year, and most producers replant after five years to keep production high. This also requires labour, and must be budgeted in advance.
Cultivate a market. The Amish have grown saffron for as long as they've been in America, and although their production is small, local chefs and homeowners buy as much as they can produce. If you can command a premium price in the local market, it helps offset the cost advantage of traditional offshore producers.
Tips and warnings
- Marketing is a very important part of your business plan; without establishing a market for your product, it is very difficult to compete with offshore suppliers.
- Contact the municipal and regional governments in areas with suitable climate and infrastructure. Assistance may be available for entrepreneurs to open up new agricultural markets.
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- Ferdowsi University of Mashhad; The Economics of Saffron in Iran; M. Ghorbani
- Saffron (Crocus sativus) Production and Processing; M. Kafi; et al. (Ed.); 2006
- University of Florida Extension; Saffron --- Crocus sativus L.; James M. Stephens; March 2009
- Iran Daily; Saffron Production; December 2010
- Foods From Spain; Gold Standard: Rediscovering Fine Spanish Saffron; Paul Richardson; February 2011
- Nectra Foods: Greek Saffron, Krokos Kozani (PDO)