How We're Re-Imaging Saffron Production With Cutting-Edge Technology

June 20, 2021

Most of us here at BlueRedGold have a background in IT-development and engineering. Deploying our problem-solving approach to saffron production gave us a clear picture that growing saffron was a great starting point for us to reimagine and set a new benchmark for green foods production. Reverse engineering the production cycle and its related operational procedures, we found that there were improvements to be made at basically every step of the process. As such, our approach to saffron production is completely new and based around a controlled environment vertical farm.

Our approach to saffron production

Dispensing of soil and working with hydroponics allows for a higher density of crops, about four times as many corms per m2 as traditional farms. The controlled environment also allows us to measure the effects of nutrition and lighting conditions, partly through the use of hyper spectral cameras, showing us detailed information on growth and nutritional uptake. This data provides us with the possibility to optimize growth conditions with pinpoint accuracy - generating zero waste of nutrition and use of electricity. Furthermore, we divide the environment into four zones. Three different climate zones, where we set different lighting, temperature and Co2 conditions, simulating the seasonal changes of the growth cycle, and one area for processes related to harvest, curation and packaging.

The most labor-intensive aspect of saffron production is the picking of the flowers and separation of the delicate saffron stigmas from the flower itself. For this particular procedure we've applied automation in the form of a highly sophisticated robot. These picking robots automatically find and separate the stigma from a flower every few seconds in a way that allows for the flower to stay attached to its stem and roots (This non-invasive method also allows us to grow more flowers per corm bought, year after year).

This robotics technology of ours is the key to high density vertical farming. Without it, it would be impossible to grow such a large amount of saffron within a small area, partly due to the elimination of space needed for humans to manually operate the production process. This lack of applied technological knowhow in robotics is one of the main reasons for why saffron production has pretty much looked the same for a very long time.

So, now that we've automated the picking process, we're also able to apply state of the art high-density warehousing automation to the production process, automatically keeping track of the status of each saffron tray, and transporting them between the different climate zones. For example, when a set of corms are ready for the transition from autumn to summer and then when the flowers have blossomed, to the area in which the robots harvest the stigma. Normally you would have about two weeks to pick and process all the flowers, but due to these innovations we will be able to continuously harvest and ship fresh saffron all year round.

We're now done with the development of our blueprint for a 4000 m2 high density vertical hydroponics farm, which would be able to hold the equivalent of 360 000 m2 traditional farmland. This facility would turn BlueRedGold into the world's second largest producer of saffron in about 3 years.

Given this fully autonomous process for regulating and tracking data on nutrition, growth, environment and picking process we can apply deep neural networks to optimize for peak efficiency on all our operational procedures within the farm. A process that also allows us to run our most energy consuming operations, like lighting the crops during nighttime, when sustainable energy from for example wind usually generates a surplus, due to most production industries not being completely autonomous and capable of operating 24/7.

With the construction of our cutting-edge farm, BlueRedGold is setting a new benchmark efficiency in green foods production, since these technological and procedural advancements can with only slight modifications be applied to a large variety of other delicate plants. It's also easy to scale which means that these disruptive approaches have the potential of making fresh green foods widely accessible.

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