Kiwi Saffron: Proudly Growing In Southland

A single saffron flower in the paddock.

Kiwi Saffron’s Steve and Jo Daley are as down-to-earth as any couple you’re likely to meet. He’s originally from Te Puke – think Kiwifruit and beekeeping. She’s from pioneer Southern farming stock. With those backgrounds, as you can imagine, they’re not afraid of a bit of work.

And that’s just as well because as well as caring for cows on the farm, beekeeping and contract fencing, Steve and Jo are the hard-working duo behind this small, but increasingly successful, organic saffron company.

Infographic - What Is Saffron?

In The Beginning

Jo and Steve learned the saffron-growing-ropes by initially growing the flowers on contract. This allowed them to focus on learning the best growing and drying techniques without worrying about selling their small crop.

But, when they got the opportunity to buy the whole business, that’s when the learning challenge really took off. After all, it’s one thing to grow a crop but marketing was a whole new world.

So when the Daleys took over Kiwi Saffron, Jo plunged headlong into the business world of websites, customer service, compliance, supermarkets etc. Steve, meanwhile, concentrated on growing the very best saffron in the world.

Right from the outset, the Daleys knew they wanted to grow organic saffron. So respect is a value they apply to every aspect of their business. It means they care for their soil, saffron, workers and their customers.

A row of saffron flowers.
Organic saffron flowers blooming in Te Anau.

Going Organic

To build up the saffron paddock they began by working tonnes of compost into the soil. This became a dark, luscious plot teaming with worms and microbes. Just the sort of healthy bed that saffron corms thrive in.

Steve and Jo hand-planted their 40,000 corms and waited. Weeds grew. The saffron stayed dormant. They weeded the plot (still by hand) — and waited.

More weeds grew. And more! This was becoming a bit much.

They had to weed the planted rows by hand to avoid disturbing the precious corms. But surely there was an easier way to weed between them?

Spraying was out of the question, and there was no money to buy fancy, new machinery.

What’s more, re-using is an integral part of the Enviro concept. Was there a DIY solution? Yes, there was.

Steve Invents The Saffron Scuffler

The first time I met Steve was when we sold him an old potato scuffler. Saffron corms are not potatoes, of course, but Steve’s inventive mind was filled with possibilities.

Hours of tinkering later he had a great little tool to tow between the saffron rows. Now he could remove the weeds without spraying or compacting the soil.

But, it is a tight fit for the scuffler between the rows.

That can cause a few problems, because for much of the year the saffron is dormant. That means you can’t see it in the paddock. Weeds, however, grow all year round.

To solve that problem, there are white markers up and down the rows so Steve can see where they are. But the scuffler’s such a tight fit that he has to concentrate on always keeping a perfect line. It’s amazing how well he manages – most of the time.

“I always know when Steve has gone off course with the scuffler and dug up the corms instead of the weeds. I can see the look on his face a mile away,” Jo says.

So out they go, to replant the row by hand. Luckily, the corms are forgiving things and aren’t usually worried about the disturbance. Neither is Jo. She knows these things happen.

Steve and Jo Daley picking saffron in Garston.
Steve and Jo Daley. Picking saffron is a twice-daily job at this time of year. They tell me that some years so many flowers come up at once you can sit in one spot to fill your bucket. But this year, the flowers have been shy and sporadic so you have to walk up and down the rows from flower to flower. It makes for a long harvesting season when they bloom so slowly.

Kiwi Saffron — Proudly BioGro Certified

In 2015 they took a huge step forward by applying to be organically certified. It’s one thing to say you’re organic, but certification is a whole ‘nother level.  But as Jo and Steve don’t see any other certified organic saffron in the NZ market at this point it’s worth it to go that extra mile.

We took the plunge to go organic in 2015 and approached BioGro. That process would normally take four years, but of course, we’d been growing organically right from the start.

“We did all the soil tests and fulfilled all those requirements that they asked us to do for compliance. Then we got our first audit and because we could prove all our documentation for the previous two years they were able to credit us with those two years. So we had full certification in 2017.

The cost of certification is a lot and that puts people off. BioGro is proactive about helping people to spread that cost, which we appreciated.”

Placing saffron stigmas on the dehydrating trays.
All the stigmas are plucked out of their flowers and placed on dehydrator racks ready for drying. At this stage, you can use bare hands, but once the saffron is dry you have to wear gloves so that oil from your fingers doesn’t touch the delicate spice. As soon as it’s dry, Jo and her helpers will weigh the saffron and package it ready for sale.

Farm To Table — Proudly Local

When I asked Jo if Kiwi Saffron was part of the Farm to Table movement she answered “Absolutely!”

Farm to table is all about keeping things local. These growers concentrate on growing organically and minimising their impact on the environment.

How Kiwi Saffron Manages Minimal Impact

Infographic: Treading lightly on the land.

Their location is key, too. All their willing helpers (WWOOFers) are coming to Te Anau and Milford Sound anyway so there’s no extra travel involved.

Luckily, if you want to buy this gorgeous spice but you don’t live in Te Anau there’s no need to panic. Kiwi Saffron now features in selected supermarkets throughout New Zealand.

They also have you covered with a prompt mail order service which you can find on their website.

Saffron Comes To Garston

Naturally, Saffron corms multiply over the years, and eventually you have to dig them up. Steve has replanted many of them at Te Anau, and some are available for sale too, but this year he is looking further afield.

Early in January Steve planted a trial crop of saffron on our farm. We’ve loved seeing the process from beginning to end.

It’s a big bed but we didn’t have to plant by hand, thank goodness. Sticking with his DIY genes Steve adapted an onion planter and turned it into a saffron-sowing machine.

So the corms were planted, and then … nothing happened. We’re used to grass, barley, oats and even hops where you can see things growing. But saffron remains coyly hidden until the lowering air temperature gives it a nudge.

Then just before Easter, voila! Overnight the flowers appeared.

There won’t be much saffron from our patch this year —  the corms are too new for that — but there are advantages to that. Each corm gets to concentrate on growing just one flower, so the red stigmas on our flowers are thick, glossy and vibrantly red.

Of course, we’re not organic, so our saffron will be an extra drop in the bucket of Kiwi Saffron’s slightly cheaper, non-organic range which is supplied by contract growers. It has, however,  had the same care and attention as the Te Anau crop and we’ll be excited to see the test results when they eventually come back.

Spreading The Word

It’s exciting to grow your business but many people find publicity the hardest part to do.

The only thing that Jo hates more than having her photo taken is public speaking. But you’d never know that from the way she’s taken it in her stride, as you can see in Jubb Studio’s lovely Kiwi Saffron video.


Catch a fascinating glimpse into Steve and Jo’s world in “Kiwi Saffron Te Anau” from My Southland Story.

More Stories On The Blog

Saffron is the latest innovation on our farm, but it’s by no means the only one. You can read about our other ideas in:

And Southland has many people like Steve and Jo. Ordinary Kiwis who are following their dreams.

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