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SmartFarmer • June 2014
'Red Gold' rush offers
rich pickings for Hills
By MAX OPRAY
MOUNT Barker growers
have successfully adapted
the world's most expensive
spice to local conditions, opening up
a potentially lucrative new industry
for the state.
Tasmania-based couple Terry and
Nicky Noonan are establishing a
network of saffron growers across
the country, and say parts of the
Adelaide Hills are ideally suited to
producing the luxury commodity,
which is worth more than its weight
Mrs Noonan claims a couple of
growers around Mount Barker have
had successful harvests this season,
and that there is significant scope for
"We were surprised, we didn't
think SA would have the right con-
ditions," she said.
"The problem is that it has to
cool down enough in autumn, and
Mount Barker and surrounds is
probably the only part of the state
that is suitable."
Would-be saffron growers need to
plant the flower around December
or January, with the first real harvest
15 months later.
The harvest should take roughly
Tas-Saff's Nicky Noonan harvests saffron at Glaziers Bay in southern Tasmania.
SA growers take up saffron
Worth up to $140,000 a kilo
Requires intensive management
"Here in Tasmania the peak flow-
ering period is mid-April -- on the
mainland it seems to be a bit later
-- when you want a minimum of five
degrees overnight and a maximum of
22 degrees during the day," she said.
"Summer rain is a no-no, you want
cool nights and sunny days."
To produce on a commercial scale,
a minimum of five acres of well-
drained agricultural land is required,
with easy access to water for irriga-
Maximum sun exposure is desir-
able, so Mrs Noonan recommends
north-facing land that is properly
"A lot of lifestylers have given it a
go on bush blocks, but the industry
is trying to steer away from that,"
"Experience on the land is quite
important, particularly in SA where
the climate is borderline."
A dehydrator -- which can cost
between $300 to $500 -- is required
to dry the saffron, and Mrs Noonan
recommends growers invest in fenc-
ing to keep animals out.
Saffron is a particularly high-
maintenance crop, with 400 to 500
hours labour required to harvest
one kilogram of saffron (180,000-
200,000 flowers), which is hand
picked, processed and dried by the
The proceeds, though, are poten-
Supermarkets purchase saffron at
prices of up to $140,000 a kilogram
-- one of the most valuable commodi-
ties in the world by weight.
The Noonans, who were the first
to acclimatise the crop to Australia,
operate the country's only commer-
cial saffron network, Tas-Saff.
Terry first got the idea after paying
$14 for one-eighth of a gram of
Spanish saffron in the late 1980s.
He investigated the spice further
and worked out Tasmania has a
similar climate to Spain and decided
to give it a crack.
Starting out in 1990 at Glaziers
Bay in the Huon Valley in southern
Tasmania, by 1994 they had adapted
saffron to southern hemisphere
growing patterns, and over the
next 20 years went from supplying
one small distributor to being the
main local source for all the major
Tas-Saff offers $29.75 a gram to
growers for their harvest, and then
takes care of marketing, packaging
and distributing the product via
their extended network.
Currently there are 60 established
contract growers located in SA,
Tasmania, Victoria, NSW and New
Zealand within temperate climatic
The company is competing with
larger-scale overseas operations
that offer cheaper product, and so
targets the high-end saffron market
to remain viable.
They produce Extra Category 1
saffron, accredited to SQF 2000:
the world's leading food safety and
quality management standard.
From the accreditation Tas-Saff
attracts a premium price -- most saf-
fron does not carry any International
Standard Organisation (ISO)
certificate and will generally be of
lower grades or in some cases, be
The world market for saffron
exceeds 200 tonnes per annum; the
total market value is estimated at $1
Australia imports approximately
3500kg of saffron annually with a
retail value of $20 million.
Iran is the leading producer and
exporter of saffron, producing 170t
• Need to know more?
Tas-Saff, 03 6295 1921, or visit
The world's most expensive spice
KNOWN as 'red gold', saffron comes
from the three-pronged dried, red
stigma of the Crocus sativus.
Thought to have originated in
Greece and Asia Minor, saffron has
been cultivated from times beyond
The spice is used as a colouring
and flavouring agent in many foods
such as bouillabaisse, paella, rice,
risotto, cheeses, puddings, tea, bread,
butter, pastries, confectionery and
It is a rich source of riboflavin and
anti-cancer carotenoids, and contains
traces of vitamins A, B, B1, B2, B3,
B6 and C.
Saffron also has a raft of medical
uses, with research indicating it
reduces cancerous tumours, stabi-
lises/reverses macular degeneration
of the eyes and Alzheimer's disease.
It can also be utilised as a fabric
dye: small amounts turn cloth into
yellow or orange, while higher levels
will yield a vibrant red colour.
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