This year is the best of recent years. The rains that have fallen in the area of Kozani recently have created the best conditions for the stamens of the saffron to be large, a fact which in turn will contribute to the increase of the total weight of the production, which in the end will be delivered by the producer to cooperative.
The Kozani saffron harvest season has been going on for a week now, with hundreds of growers and their families in the fields, bent over, collecting their purple flowers one by one. It is the period when the cultivators from Krokos, Agia Paraskevi, Caesarea, Ano and Kato Komi, Platania Voiou, but also the mountain communities, such as Trigoniko and Tranovalto, Kozani, abandon all other activities and dedicate themselves as families to the collection of flowers.
The collection of the crocus/saffron has the peculiarity that it must be completed within a maximum of 15 days, as long as the total flowering of the flowers in each bulb lasts. That is why the collection must be done during this period, otherwise the production may be lost. As the president of the cooperative, Vassilis Mitsopoulos, points out, “in recent years, Albanian workers came with tourist visas and participated in our work. However, the covid measures have made their arrival difficult due to the low vaccination of the neighboring country “.
The relative shortage of labor in the last two years has been covered by a domestic workforce participating in the collection. The remuneration, as Mr. Mitsopoulos explains, “is 5-6 euros per hour, with the insurance belonging to the cultivator employer”. Securing labor is not an easy task because collecting is a laborious manual task, as the worker must be constantly bent over throughout the day.
After the end of the daily harvest, the flower is always separated from the stamens and the stigmas. The producers will “dry” the latter for a few days so they lose their moisture. This is followed by the separation of the yellow warps intended as a dye in industry from the red stigmas of the saffron. The whole family participates in this process, it takes place inside the house and lasts up to 40 days.
The programs for young farmers but also the liquidation of the price of the product to the saffron producer by the cooperative, which for 2020 and 2021 closed at 1,200 euros per kilo, seem to have attracted new growers. From the IACS data for 2021 it seems that there is an increase from 4,900 to 5,500 acres and as noted by the president of the cooperative, this “will have a positive impact on our total production.” He expressed the optimism that if the favorable weather lasts and the farmers with the workshops can collect all the flowers “this year’s production will exceed 2.6 tons”.
A thousand square meters of arable land – if all goes well – can “give” 900 grams of crocus and as Mr. Mitsopoulos emphasizes, “for a family with an average of 1-1.5 acres, which are most of our partners, the crop can offer an additional income “.
Although the cooperation with China started encouragingly with the first shipment of packaged quantity for specialized shops selling aromatic plants, so far there is no progress, a fact that the president of the cooperative attributes to the traditional trade cooperation between China and Iran, which is one of the leading saffron production forces reaching 400 tons per year. But in the saffron industry there is optimism, the cooperative’s warehouses are waiting for the new crop to fill up, while the messages from the dealers in Europe are positive in terms of the overall image and the quality characteristics of the product that are considered high level. Adverse developments in Afghanistan also contributed to the “demand” for saffron, as this country is a major producer of saffron that feeds the European market.
In recent years, the use of Kozani saffron in gastronomy is flourishing, since internationally recognized chefs have included the famous spice in their delicious creations.
Mr. Mitsopoulos also states that he is satisfied with the response that saffron has to the beverage market. “Seven flavors based on saffron and a mixture of the most popular herbs of Greek nature are on the market and have won the trust of our customers,” he emphasizes.