saffron harvest

Three Stages of Saffron Harvest

Near the end of October to mid-November, from Mehr-to-mid Azar in the Hijri calendar, you can see lots of men and women working in saffron lands. What is going on? It’s almost the time of saffron harvest in most regions of Khorasan province. Apart from the financial importance, this step of the saffron production is locally important as it engages more workers, especially women and even some children, turning it into a cultural event. Here, we focus on the harvesting step of the saffron process, in an attempt to show how labor-intensive the process is.

At the end of this post, we analyze how saffron production can be productive for the farmer or people involved in saffron harvesting process!

What are the stages of saffron harvesting?

Harvesting time-range in Iran saffron regions usually takes around two months. That is, Khorasan province can be divided into 3-4 regions, in terms of flowering time, each of which takes up to 3 weeks to harvest. The quality of the final product highly relies on the correct timing, speed, and correct harvesting method. The harvest of saffron includes multiple stages, which will be discussed in detail:

1. Saffron flowering:

Two to three weeks after the initial irrigation (called Basar irrigation) the saffron starts to flower. Saffron flowering usually takes place in a 20-day period. The plants in warmer regions flourish a bit later than the ones in cooler areas or below tree shading. The number of saffron flowers depends on the size and quality of the corm, the soil condition, enough irrigation, and the time (year) of cultivation.

saffron blooming

2. Harvest time: 

The best time to harvest saffron is early in the morning before they are opened. This way, the coloring, and aroma will be reserved and a better-quality product will be produced. At the peak of saffron flowering period, harvesting happens twice a day, early in the mornings and in the evenings. During early and late harvest time, when there is little flowering, the workers plan to harvest flowers every other day. To harvest saffron, the worker takes the top of the saffron flower with three fingers and pulls it out from the spathe. Then, the workers put the saffron flowers in a clean basket to avoid potential contamination.

Harvesting saffron

3. Separation of stigmas from the flower (stripping): 

It is recommended to strip the flowers immediately after harvest. If it is harvested in large volume and there isn’t enough worker for further processing of saffron, the harvested flowers should be kept in a clean, shady place under (almost) 0°C, with layers of fresh flowers no more than 10 cm thickness. For stripping saffron, the flower is opened up and they separate the style and stigmas from its petals. If the flowers are wide open, stigmas may be broken or be attached to petals and stamens. Therefore, in this case, the produced stigmas will have lower quality.

stripping saffron

So far, the final saffron product has not yet produced. The saffron stigmas need to go under specific procedures to become suitable for using:

Producing different types of saffron: 

During stripping the saffron flower, they should decide whether to produce a bunch, filaments, or any of the all-red saffron types. To produce Dokhtar-Pich, workers try to arrange stigmas in one direction and styles in another direction, wrapped by a white cotton strand.

Most of the workers directly separate stigmas from style, in order to produce All-Red saffron. The market needs and customer requirements determine how the saffron flower should be processed and what type of saffron is produced. 

Types of Iranian saffron

All-Red saffron involves three types (i.e Super Negin, Negin, Sargol), while there are four other types (i.e Poushal, Bunch, Ground, Konj) of Iranian saffron. To get to know different types of Iranian saffron, please continue reading “Types of Iranian Saffron.”

Use of machines and technology in saffron process:

Most of the saffron production process is done by hand. Recently, some agriculture machinery manufacturing companies have developed special equipment and machines to mechanize the saffron production process, from saffron flower bulb cultivation to saffron flower drying stage. Those machines and equipment are used, by some farmers.

In recent years, some manufacturing companies have deployed saffron harvesting machines as pilot tests in small-scale lands. There are 2 to 3 harvesting machine types available with different cons and pros. The saffron harvesting machines have different levels of effectiveness depending on the cultivation and land status. Therefore, farmers have noticed the need for the development of more advanced harvesting machines. 

Not only harvesting machines but also stripping machines have come to the scene in recent years.

The saffron stripping machines takes advantage of color spectrum sensors, artificial intelligence, and other modern technologies, in order to detect and separate the stigmas from the flower, with a lower risk of condemnation.

Use of machines in saffron process: cons and pros:

The main advantage of mechanical saffron harvesting is that the flowers are less exposed to potential condemnation.

On the other hand, the main disadvantage of saffron stripping machines is a slow speed and high costs for the farmers, which makes them economically unjustifiable in terms of production costs.

On the other hand, by deploying machines, there is no need to hire local and rural human workforce, which is a threat to their local economic status.

Drying saffron:

traditional saffron drying

Farmers dry saffron in a traditional way or with the use of saffron drying equipment. Traditionally, they use a clean, white sheet to spread stigmas in a place with free air circulation. This way, the stigmas become darker as they are exposed to free air for a longer time. 

If automatic drying machines are inaccessible, it is recommended to use wooden shelves, with an attached clean, white sheet bottom of it, to spread saffron stigmas. To dry them more quickly and provide indirect exposure to heat, saffron producers should keep them in a clean environment with heaters on. 

The emergence of drying machines made a dramatic change in the quality of the final product. With drying machines, the saffron stigmas are carefully placed on a tray, covered by silk sheets from both sides. This tray of saffron stigma receives heat from all sides, once it is inserted into the machine. With a saffron drying machine, the operator can control the heat and humidity levels of the environment. Therefore, the operator can make sure that the saffron does not receive too much heat and the final product does not turn black, and its coloring power remains. Negin and Super Negin saffron is normally produced using the machine drying method. 



saffron drying machine

The larger and flatter the stigmas are, the more valuable they become. Large and flat Negin and Super Negin stigmas are popular in specific markets. However, the SunLand R&D team believes that saffron bioactive components are diminished due to high pressure, which is imposed on saffron texture by drying machines.

As a result, it is recommended to not use drying machines with high pressure and strong cooling fans.

The time of saffron harvest is important to local people and landowners. At this time of the year, agricultural universities and tour agencies and even individual visitors plan saffron tours to the saffron regions of Khorasan to introduce the traditions, foods, culture, and even the technical points of the saffron process. To know more about such saffron tours, we invite you to continue reading “Saffron Agritourism in Iran.”


Saffron farming profit

Many farmers are interested in cultivating saffron as they have heard about high saffron farming profit. The saffron farming profit may seem lucrative, while the intensive manual work is mostly ignored. Considering the costs of saffron cultivation, we are going to answer this question: “Is it profitable to grow saffron?”

Saffron yield per hectare

Each hectare of saffron land can yield nearly 1.2 to 1.7 kg of saffron if the best farming practices are deployed. Stripping nearly 150 flowers of saffron flower can yield nearly one gram of saffron.

How to Grow Saffron for Profit

To get the most profit from saffron production, you need to pay close attention to flowering the required considerations during the saffron growth period. Using high-quality corms and improved techniques to grow saffron will result in high-volume saffron production, which, in its turn, increases your profit margin.

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