Indoor saffron farming with special reference to hydroponic system

Indoor farming is a method of cultivating crops or plants normally on a large scale entirely indoors. It adopts methods such as hydroponics and utilizes artificial lights to provide nutrients and light necessary for plant growth.  It allows us to grow crops round the year. But, we must make sure that our indoor room’s insulation has enough R-value to support farming 24×7. The R-value is the measure of resistance to heat flow which is thermal resistance indicating the temperature difference when a unit of heat runs through it. It measures thermal resistance per unit area. It is the ratio between difference in temperature between warmer surface and colder surface of a barrier and heat instability through the barrier. The greater the R-value the greater is the resistance and vice versa.  Saffron farming in contemporary times is facing challenges of area, production, and productivity drop. Therefore, it is very important to improve the trio. Jammu and Kashmir lacks scientific ways of plucking saffron and almost all saffron growers prefer hand plucking. Saffron Marketing is very inflated here because of lack of proper technology and infrastructure for storage and processing facilities and mishandling during grading, packaging, and transportation. Indoor farming is very cost effective. For more production and productivity levels indoor growers need the proper mix of lighting and knowledge to use light in a right way. We can use LED lights which are cost-effective. They need to be at an appropriate distance from the plants so that they receive a suitable amount of light.

Soil is not the only solution for growing crops. We have a farming system that is exclusive of soil, often called soilless farming viz. the system of hydroponics. Under such soilless conditions, the roots of plants develop inside the wet torpid materials such as Vermiculite and Rockwool or in a liquefied nutrient solution which is a combination of vital plant nutrients in the water. Saffron cultivation and maintenance is not every one’s cup of tea as it is a very painstaking task. It is very labour intensive. But saffron, if grown in a hydroponics system is very easy and less backbreaking than it would be traditionally. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and Deep Water Culture (DWC) are most commonly used hydroponic systems. Former makes use of sequences of shallow gutters and in a very thin film solution is passed through the gutter’s length. Under greenhouse cultivation practices, this method is very common. No doubt, it is very easy on the pocket but not easy on the space or space efficient. Latter makes use of a moving raft to uphold plants over a solution tank. Solution is drawn very slowly from the sump through tanks so as to provide nutrients without harming roots. It is good under tropical climatic conditions and not very much supportive under temperate climatic conditions with mild to warm summers and cool to cold winters (Simmons, 2015) coupled with temperature instability. Saffron cultivation under hydroponic mechanism demands NFT and pin plates that are usually used. As far as pin plates are concerned, they are essentially provisional growing spaces where the roots of plants are developed and the bulbs are attached. Plants developed with corms or bulbs in general and saffron in particular are grown best with Potassium and Phosphorus in great amounts for its growth and development. For sprouting or growth hydroponic nutrients are not strictly essential but the nutrients must be mixed, at less than 50 % water strength, with supplied corms.

Indoor saffron farming, especially using hydroponic systems, is a matter of germination and flowering. The moment saffron has bloomed or budded we don’t bother about its further growth because the only concern then is the harvesting of the stigmas. It is very important to choose the right proportion of nutrients and the nutrient solution ought to a holistic one intended to boost blooms. We must get appropriate flowering design or preparation from the market so as to be confident about dilution in accordance with the instructions from the market or expert. On a regular basis nutrient values should be calculated with potential of hydrogen and electrical conductivity meters. Nutrients full of characteristics boost blossoming. Temperature plays an important role in saffron growth. It requires a good amount of temperature. Indoor hydroponic practice has many advantages and one such advantage is that temperature can be adjusted by the grower. For best blooming or budding a range of 15 degree to 18 degree Celsius temperature during day and night temperature not less than 12 degree Celsius is necessary. Too warm and too cold climatic conditions invite its underdevelopment. Accordingly we need to set up such indoor growth chambers that provide dry temperateness of summer to encourage growth and cooler environments to persuade blossoming. Photosynthesis is equally important. A direct light of 15 hours per day is necessary for flower growth. Saffron indoor structure must be set up in the room where there are optimum light hours.

With dwindling saffron land alongside dip in production, productivity, and marketing of saffron in Jammu and Kashmir, indoor farming can help with the threats and challenges that lie in the future. It can play a vital role in meeting the need for organic and pure home-based saffron full of attributes. In addition, the scientific cost effective technologies this system adopts will open the vistas of know-hows coupled with income, employment, and output prospects that restructure saffron economy in general and agriculture setting in particular.

Binish Qadri is ICSSR Doctoral Fellow in the department of economics, Central University of Kashmir; Quarterly Franklin Member, London Journals Press.