Saffron: A new high-value crop for underserved farmers in Southern US

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2023: $29,233.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Rodale Institute
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Bharat Acharya
Rodale Institute Southeast Organic Center


  • Agronomic: saffron


  • Crop Production: varieties and cultivars
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development

    Proposal abstract:

    Saffron is a fall-blooming perennial from the Iridaceae family (Rios et al., 1996). The dehydrated stigma of saffron contains bioactive compounds with therapeutic properties in treating cancer cells, Alzheimer's disease, and cardiovascular disorders (Schmidit et al., 2007; Samarghandian and Borji 2014; Khorasany and Hosseinzadeh, 2016). Saffron is a high-value crop (Shahnoushi et al., 2020) with a rapidly increasing demand in the US ( Studies showed that U.S.-grown saffron with an average price of $30/g could generate >$50,000 net revenue/acre. To the best of our knowledge, there hasn’t been any effort on introducing saffron to the growers in the southern region. The PI of this proposal has extensive experience in growing saffron in various agroclimatic zones and is confident that the growing condition in Georgia is favorable for growing this crop but this needs to be tested and verified before farmers take the initiative to grow it.  

    Whereas the U.S. is listed as a top ten saffron importer with <60 tons per year, domestic saffron production is insufficient to cover all the U.S. market demands. The size of the US market from the imported product was valued at over $60 million in 2018, leaving a great market for US-grown saffron.

    Saffron as a high-value crop is emerging for growers. While an intensive labor cost is associated with flower harvesting, the newly proposed production method can reduce the cost of saffron flower harvesting. Since hygienic products are appreciated and traditional harvesting and post-harvest handling methods are not properly hygienic, saffron production in clean, controlled areas has attracted lots of attention in recent years.

    SARE previously funded three projects related to saffron production in Midwest (Ohio) and Northeast (Vermont and Rhode Island) ( To best of our knowledge, this will be the first effort evaluating saffron production in southern USA. The PDs of this proposal have extensive experience with saffron production. Co-PD Ghalegolabbehbahani is the co-founder of the North American Center for Saffron Research and Development at the University of Vermont ( and has published numerous educational bulletin and fact sheets as well as hosted several workshops and webinars about saffron production and processing ( We believe the climate condition in Georgia should be conducive to producing high-yield saffron, but this requires local testing and trailing.

    We propose to test saffron production on two farms in Georgia: Many Fold Farm (7850 Rico Rd, Chattahoochee Hills, GA 30268) and High Hog Farm (1247 Pinehurst Rd, Grayson, GA 30017). However, the project findings will be shared with a larger group of underserved farmers through an extensive outreach and education plan.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project showcases a novel and sustainable method to produce high-quality saffron in the southern region. Our focus will be on organic production, but the results will be useful for no-organic producers as well. Our objectives are:

    1. Evaluate different production systems and planting dates for saffron production in southern states
    2. Evaluate the best method of processing saffron stigma for small-scale producers (using kitchen dehydrator vs. oven vs. microwave) 
    3. Develop an enterprise budget to document the feasibility of saffron production in the region 

    For objective one: A replicated field trial will be conducted at Many Fold Farm in Chattahoochee hill, GA, and at High Hog Farm in Grayson, GA to evaluate the yield of saffron in two production systems including:

    • In an open field
    • In a high tunnel

    In Many Fold Farm, both production systems will be tested side by side and compared to each other but in High Hog Farm production in the open field will be tested only as the farm currently doesn’t have a high tunnel.

    In each production system, we will test different planting dates from early September to mid-October. Saffron corm will be planted in the soil at the depth of 6 inches. Each treatment will have four replicates. Over the blooming season in October, the saffron flowers will be harvested every other day. Stigmas will be separated from petals and stamens and fresh yield will be recorded for each treatment. After dehydration in a convection oven at the temperature of 100 °C for 10 minutes, the dry yield will be measured in each treatment. In the spring of the following year, daughter corms will be sampled to measure saffron secondary corm size and propagation rates. Currently, organic corms are sold at $0.36 per corm, which can provide a significant additional income for the growers.

    For objective 2: a lab experiment will be conducted at Many Fold Farm to determine the best post-processing method for small-scale growers. Four drying methods will be tested including using a) a kitchen food dehydrator, b) a microwave oven, c) a toaster oven, and 4) a convection oven. To determine the effect of the processing method on saffron quality, the concentration of crocin (C44H64O24), picrocrocin (C16H26O7), and safranal (C10H14O) which are the main apocarotenoids in stigmas will be measured through a quantitative nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (qNMR) technique. For extracting the secondary metabolites of saffron, 100 mg of dehydrated saffron stigmas will be milled in a mortar. The ground saffron will be transferred to a TD-NMR glass tube, followed by adding a 1 ml DMSO-d6 solvent. The NMR spectra of the samples will be obtained in MNOVA, and the relative concentration of the secondary metabolites will be measured by performing the integration of target picks and compared among treatments.

    For objective 3: results from the field trial and lab study will be used to develop an enterprise budget for saffron production in southern states which will include all inputs (including labor) and outputs (gross and net return).

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.