BDN interviews Hopkins for article about growing saffron

The Bangor Daily News interviewed Kathryn Hopkins, an educator with University of Maine Cooperative Extension, for an article about growing saffron, the most expensive spice in the world. Made from hand-picked and dried stigmas of fall crocuses, saffron sells for about $5,000 per pound, the BDN reported. It’s a fairly new crop for Maine, but could be a smart option for growers trying to diversify their crops. “Farms in New England have been under financial stress. Smaller farms are trying to find the right mix of diversification to make sure their bottom line comes out positive,” said Hopkins. “Saffron is a high-value crop; if it can be produced, that could be a way to bump up the farm’s profit.” Hopkins has experimented with growing saffron in a demonstration plot from 2017–2018. While it was not a formal research project, Hopkins said she learned a lot. Her crop did well the first year, but fewer bulbs survived the second year. Hopkins guessed rodents were responsible, according to the BDN. Growing saffron also is land- and labor-intensive — a pound of saffron requires 50,000 to 75,000 crocuses, limiting production to about four pounds of saffron per acre, and the stigmas can only be harvested by hand. “It’s just the threads that you’re harvesting and when you dry them down they weigh nothing,” Hopkins said. “It’s hard to get enough harvested to make it financially rewarding and worth selling. You can’t sell a tenth of an ounce very productively.” While the crop does not have large market potential for farms to make profits, they could find a local outlet for the product. “I think a lot of farms will do well if they can tap into the local food market. People who are able to grow and harvest local herbs and seasonings find that people want to buy those instead of buying bottled flavoring from who knows where,” she said.