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Guinness World Records to capture highest saffron bulb yield

Slovakia: 80% automation and high profit margins. Will saffron crack the code?

"Our new 400m2 pilot farm is on the way that allows us to grow 3.5 tons of saffron bulbs. To date, we unofficially broke the world record for the most collected saffron per ton of bulbs. Our new harvest is coming up and we will surpass the current record. This time, we'll officially host the Guinness World Records to record and document it," says Miroslav Hroncek, Founder and CEO of Veles Farming, a Slovakian startup that specializes in cultivation software and hardware for saffron.

Through higher plant density per m2, and improved lights to lower the energy consumption, Veles will be able to reach higher and more optimal yields. With an updated software, the team can precisely measure and monitor cultivation at a large scale. "In the third quarter of this year, we'll be launching a modular tower system that 'makes room' for even more dense production."

Cutting labor
In order to combat the restraining labor costs, Veles Farming is looking into automating most of the farm processes. "As of now, we need about 80 people for the harvesting process, which covers a third of the total operating expenses. Manual labor is currently more expensive than the overall electricity cost, whereas the remaining 70% is already automated."

The remaining 30% is still done by human labor, consisting of picking- and peeling the flowers, and sorting the rest of the products. By the end of 2024, Miroslav and his team are determined to have 80% automated in the pilot farm. Once that number is achieved, the team will be crossing the pond and expand into the North American market.

Ready to reel in some customers, Miroslav reveals plans to close deals with potential clients, leveraging their ISO certification for saffron quality. "Though, it's a bit tricky. While we have about six to seven kilos of production per year, most of them want to be at 50kg. Eventually, we'll be able to meet that number though, as we're constantly working on fitting more kilos in a square meter."

Soon, the startup will be closing a deal with a major Spanish pharmaceutic company for which they will realize a 600m2 vertical farm, allowing us to harvest about 5.5 tons of bulbs or even more.

High profit margin
"Given most of our customers are based in the pharmaceutical industry, we're able to charge a bit more, adding up to the margin.We sell 30eur/g, and we are expecting to make 300.000eur in revenue."

Whilst the startup has been mainly perfecting their saffron growing envelope, that doesn't limit them to this product only. Running trials on exotic mushrooms on the side, the team sees various opportunities for its cultivation hardware and software. "As we're currently doing research to back the claims, we are planning to officially launch both products in 2026 for commercial end-users." Eventually, Veles Farming is planning on launching its own supplement brand by 2026 in partnership with a Qatari company as a joint venture.

Given last year, the saffron market has seen bad yields, Miroslav is expecting to respond to this gap within five months from now. "There will be a huge price increase as shortages will rise. Eventually, outdoor growers will have to move to indoor cultivation, yet, they have limited knowledge. However, more and more people are taking up on indoor saffron farming. Without automation, it won't be viable to grow saffron indoors in the US or Europe."

Meeting consistent quality
Partnering with a French extraction company, Veles is able to affordably outsource some of its processes, such as extraction in this case. Through their ISO certified indoor farming cultivation, Veles is always able to meet a set quality which is perfectly suiting to the pharmaceutical industry.

"High quality saffron should contain eight main components, and the higher the quality, the more extract it will contain. Being a farm-to-business, we're able to provide pharmaceutical companies with the best components of premium quality."

For more informationVeles Farming
Miroslav Hroncek, Founder and CEO