Irshad Ahmad Dar, a progressive farmer, has collected this season’s first Saffron crop, many kilograms of fresh petals of the flower, from his fields at Chandhara, Samboora and Patalbagh in Pampore, known for the cultivation of this expensive crop.
The aroma of sweet saffron flowers has brought cheers up on his face and like many farmers, he is expecting a good crop this year.
The young farmer from Patalbagh village of Pampore Tehsil narrated that since 2021 climatic conditions have been kind to them.Though rains were delayed, there were no longer dry spells as were seen previously.
Owner of 20 kanals of saffron land, Irshad Dar hopes to reap a better crop than the previous year.He hopes to get around 2.4 kilograms of dry saffron (Stigma) per hectare.
Like Irshad another saffron farmer from Shaarshali Village of Pampore, Abdul Majeed Wani,president of All Saffron Growers’ Association, too has collected first crop of fresh flowers from his fields.He too hopes to get a bumper crop this year.According to Majeed, a good number of corms are present in the saffron beds.
The Karewas of Pampore, Samboora, Chandhara, Lethpora, and Patalbagh wear a beautiful look after sprouting of saffron flowers, though the bloom is still sparse.
Many tourists and visitors along the Srinagar -Jammu National highway were seen halting their vehicles to click pictures and selfies in the nearby saffron fields.
This area of South Kashmir’s Pulwama district is known for producing the world’s best quality saffron.
In 2020, The National Saffron Mission was launched by the central government for reviving saffron production by creating irrigation facilities through bore wells and sprinkler sets.128 bore wells were provided in different areas of Pampore and Panthachowk under the Mission.
“The bore wells are ready to be used but need piping and other accessories,” Majeed said.
Initially , it was 4 year programme but was extended from time to time till 2019.The farmers were also provided rupees 20,000 per kanal for seeds and meeting other expenses.
Chowdhary Mohammad Iqbal, Director Department of Agriculture Production and Farmers Welfare Kashmir told Rising Kashmir that he has been inspecting the saffron fields regularly.
“As per my observations, every corm in the beds will bear flowers this season. We will have a much better crop production than the previous year,” he said, adding that the department is in the process of determining the projected figure for this year, which will be released soon.Last year the production was around 15 metric tonnes.
He said that National Saffron Mission played an important role in increasing production from 1.8 kilogram per hectare to 4.92 kilogram per hectare.
He said that the latest extension of the programme had expired.“The programme has again been approved by the government and once funds are made available the bore wells will be made functional by mechanical engineering department,” he said, adding that more bore wells will be provided for saffron growers for irrigation facility of their fields.
Presently this perennial herbaceous plant, Saffron is cultivated in the western parts of the Mediterranean with Iran, India and Spain being three largest producers in the world.
In India, Saffron is commercially grown in Pulwama, Srinagar and Budgam districts of Kashmir. Kishtwar and Doda districts of Jammu also grow saffron.
Kong (Kashmiri word for saffron) reproduced asexually by corms which experts suggest should be placed 15 cm deep in soil.
An average size corm of 10 grams ( Kong meund) produces two to three flowers in a season. The saffron flowers start emerging from 1st October and the late bloom may last up to 10 November.The full bloom is usually seen after 21 October and a farmer can have up to five turns of pickings in a season.
The typical Saffron flower has six tepals ( fused sepals and petals) which are outer coloured leaves, a red coloured stigma, each stigma has three thread like filaments and yellowish stamens/style .
The stigma is the prized part of the flower which is dried for use as a spice in cuisines, flavouring agent in beverages and in preparation of various medicine.
Bashir Ahmad Allie, who heads SKUAST’s Advance Research Station for Saffron and Seed Spices at Dusso Pampore informed that this year dry spell in March came as a blessing for Saffron because rain and humid conditions in this month cause corm rotting.
“ Inspection of beds during April to June of this year found corms in a healthy state without any stains of infestation,” Allie said.
He said that August 25 to September 5 is critical stage for saffron during which water is required for breaking corm dormancy.He explained that during this phase corms start growing roots for taking nourishment to begin new sprouting season.
Allie said that there was dry spell during September but wet conditions on 19 October fullfilled water requirement of Saffron.
“ We will have a good crop provided day temperature remains around 21 degree and night temperature around 8 to 10 degree,” he said, adding that if cold waves from upper reaches where it snowed recently start making their way to saffron fields there are chances of hormonal imbalance in corms which may switch directly to vegetative phase without flowering.
The scientist advised farmers for picking one day old flowers from beds and avoiding harvest during moist conditions for preserving three important ingredients; Crocin, Picrocrocin and Saffarnal.
Allie explained that these ingredients are volatile and get evaporated due to hydrolysis ( breakdown) in moist conditions.
He elaborated that stigma should be separated from the harvested flowers within 12 hours and separated stigmas be dried within a hour to trap all these essential ingredients. “The stigma can be separated independently or with stamens, the yellow threads of saffron flower representing it’s male parts.”
Accordingly the Saffron is categorised as Mogra grade or Laccha grade.
Mogra grade being dried red part of stigmas only is more susceptible to adulteration as unscrupulous elements mix red dyed corn silk with it and sell the adultered saffron in the market.The Laccha grade being mixture of red stigmas and yellow stamens is less susceptible to adulteration.
To check adulteration Allie suggested dipping a sample of saffron in lukewarm water. “Gradual dissolution signifies it’s purity and fast dissolution adulteration.”
However, when one buys a bulk quantity he is advised to get quality testing at SKUAST’s laboratory or laboratories established by Department of Agriculture Production and Farmers Welfare Kashmir.
Though, stigma seperation is done by hand and farmers mostly practice sun drying of separated stigmas but from past couple of years many farmers prefer to take the harvested saffron flowers to Indian International Kashmir Saffron Trade Centre ( IIKSTC) at Dusso Pampore for stigmas separation and drying.
Dr Nayeem, Technical Manager, Quality Evaluation Laboratory, IIKSTC, Dusso Pampore, informed that once a packet of flowers is received it is coded and sent for stigma separation.
He said that traditional practice of sun drying stigmas decreases concentration of crocin and picrocrocin by evaporation.
“ At IIKSTC stigmas are dried is carried out by vacum dryers,” Nayeem said, adding “after drying the saffron is given a GI ( Global Indication) tag which signifies that it is 100 per cent Kashmiri saffron.”
He said that a GI tag along with a certification from NABL (National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories) certified laboratory of IIKSTC validate that the saffron is of a standard quality.
At IIKSTC farmers get access to global market through online auction which is done under the supervision of the farmer.
“ The e -auction has eliminated middle agents who used to exploit farmers and also secured competitive bidding,” he said, adding that farmers get double the rate than prevailing in the market.Last year around 60 kilograms of saffron was e-auctioned at IIKSTC.
Dr. Nayeem said, “one kilogram of saffron was e-auctioned for rupees 2.30 lakh against market rate of rupees 1.45 lakh per Kg.The farmers gets paid within 3 days through DBT ( Direct Benefit Transfer).”
This government facility is working round the clock these days on shift basis.The services here are provided free of cost to the farmers, he concluded.