If you thought saffron can be grown only in Kashmir, think again. A few farmers in Jalgaon are trying their hand at cultivating saffron to reap profit amid growing agrarian distress.
The variety they are cultivating is known as the American Saffron or Red Gold, which grows in slightly warmer climates than the popular version grown in Kashmir.
Under the guidance of agriculture experts, a few farmers from Jalgaon first tried their hand at cultivating saffron in January this year. With the winter chill now setting in, they are gearing up for their second season of saffron cultivation.
Jayesh Chopade, who is a mechanical engineer, worked with a team of experts to help his uncle Prakash cultivate saffron in the dry climate of Jalgaon last year. They spent Rs.30,000 on the seeds, while Rs.20,000 were spent on purchasing mulching paper. “The crop required 10-12 litres of water every alternate day. It turned out to be quite economical as compared to the other crops we grow such as cotton and banana,” said Jayesh.
They sowed saffron over a 10 guntha land in January last year. Planted with a spacing of 1.75 feet, 950 plants were grown. Each plant yielded 5 to 10 gram of saffron. At the end of the four-month season, they had around 4.75 kilograms of the expensive spice in their hands.
Priced at a princely sum of Rs.100 for each gram, Chopade went to the bank with Rs.4.5 lakh in his kitty from the saffron sales. “It was good profit, much better than the other crops. Plus, the technique needed to cultivate the crop is not very difficult,” he said.
Amar Pathak, technical director of a private firm that is helping the farmers, feels that innovation in farming and use of affordable technology is the need of the hour. “The key is to maintain temperature between 25 and 28 degrees celsius for the saffron crop to grow. In addition, the moisture content of the soil must be between 30% and 40% and the pH value of the soil should be from 4.5 to 6,” Pathak said.
In order to maintain the temperature and moisture, it is suggested that garden sprinklers be installed from top to bottom like on a grape crop. “Either a technical instrument or the regular clinical thermometer can be used to monitor the temperature,” Pathak said.
For measuring moisture content, there are specific instruments but in its absence, the ground can be dug 15 cm deep and he wetness can be felt to ensure that required moisture is maintained. The soil’s pH level is maintained through the use of particular types of fertilizer.
Along with Chopade, Paresh Patil from Muktainagar village in Jalgaon, also cultivated saffron on his land. “We got good results, but since the food value of American Saffron is not defined, we faced problems in marketing the produce. We have requested the government to give the saffron certificate so that it can get good market value,” Patil said.
Such certification can help the farmers get a even higher price for the saffron they grow.