Tuesday, January 18

SA’s first saffron season a success

Having started its first full saffron planting this year, South Africa’s first season of the ‘red gold’ crop is now in full swing and has exceeded all expectations, with many farmers producing successful harvests.

Bennie Engelbrecht, founding member and director of Saffricon, the company driving the local saffron revolution, says that saffron has been planted in all nine provinces and that feedback from farmers indicates a success rate of around 95%.


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Bennie Engelbrecht, left, founder and director of Saffricon with Corné Liebenberg, marketing director of Laeveld Agrochem, harvesting saffron flowers on one of Pretoria’s saffron farms. Image: supplied

“Here and there, farmers experienced some setbacks, but the vast majority of the crops were successful and produced flowers. In many cases, the harvest of year one produced more flowers than was initially expected ”.

“This bodes well for the harvests of the coming seasons and the expansion of the industry,” he adds.

The cultivation of saffron, known as red gold and considered the most expensive spice in the world, has been found to be ideal for the South African climate, as it can survive extreme drought conditions.

According to Saffricon, the most frequent annual crops require approximately between 500mm and 800mm of irrigation per season, while saffron needs between 250mm and 300mm per season.

It is also a winter crop and its bulbs, usually planted between March and April, multiply underground under favorable conditions, on average about three times a year, and flower production usually peaks in the third year.

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The flowers (which have the blood-red crocus threads) are harvested 40 days after the bulbs begin to sprout and should be harvested immediately, the day they begin to ‘bloom’.

Engelbrecht notes that there is great interest from potential saffron growers, and as a result, Saffricon has signed subcontracting contracts with three farmers – one in Laingsburg and two in Pretoria, with plantings ranging from about 6,000 bulbs to just over 150,000 bulbs. .

The company also plans to conclude many more contracts next year given the increasing number of bulbs available to supply to farmers. Subcontracting contracts with farmers will be held under a franchise regime.

According to Corné Liebenberg, marketing director at Laeveld Agrochem, this demand has been largely driven by the massive media coverage that saffron cultivation has received in the country.

“For everyone I talk to, the most attractive part of the current offering is the fact that they ‘just need to have the bulbs in the ground’ and that Saffricon is buying back the saffron as well as the bulbs after the third year. . So there is a certain result that gives reassurance, ”said Liebenberg.

Saffricon has also sold 173 starter packs to 134 interested parties. The starter pack contains around 700 prepared bulbs, plant nutrition, and a growing program involving soil testing by Nvirotek and recommendations made by Agri Technovation, to help with growing, as well as support from Saffricon.

“The starter packs are ideal as they allow prospective farmers to test saffron cultivation throughout South Africa under different growing conditions before considering larger scale farming,” says Engelbrecht.

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He notes that there is a lot of buyer interest in saffron, and that Saffricon is currently negotiating with various parties in the Middle East.

“The world demand for saffron is much higher than what is produced annually, which is good news for local production. Iran is by far the largest producer. According to Statista [a supplier of market and consumer data], the country produced 430 tons in 2019 ”, says Saffricon.

India, mainly the Kashmir region, is the second largest producer with 22 tons, followed by Greece with 7.2 tons.

Engelbrecht believes that South Africa has the potential to become one of the world’s leading suppliers of saffron, provided it is done in a judicious and orderly manner.

He says that the plant is classified according to the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO3632 classification for saffron, and that the initial indications are that Saffricon’s saffron is of very high quality, which means that your product should reach a good price in the international market.

In South Africa, saffron is sold up to R250 / g (or R250,000 / kg). This high consumer price is attributed to its labor-intensive collection methods that involve picking the flowers and removing the strings by hand.

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About 150,000 flowers are needed to deliver 1 kg of saffron. Also, the yield per hectare in the third year, when production reaches a peak, can vary from 1 kg to 5 kg.

Saffron is used primarily in the food industry as a seasoning to enhance flavor and aroma. It is widely used in the natural cosmetics and natural medicine industries, and is also used as a dye in the textile industry.

* Palesa Mofokeng is a Moneyweb intern.


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