Newspaper article Daily News (Warwick, Australia)

Spicing Up Life with Saffron

Newspaper article Daily News (Warwick, Australia)

Spicing Up Life with Saffron

Article excerpt


AN exotic spice valued at between $32,000 and $34,000 per kilogram is being grown for the first time in Queensland by an innovative Granite Belt couple.

Russell and Noelene Leming always wanted to do "something different," and started growing the spicesaffron experimentally seven years ago.

Today they hold the honour of being the State's only commercial growers of the flowering plant, producing what is widely touted as the "world's most expensive spice".

But with the practicality of one involved with the operation from its very earthy start, Mrs Leming explained the weighty price tag as one bal- anced by production limitations and labour intensity.

"We have approximately 20,000 plants and we produced a total of about 70 grams this year and practically every part of the process is done by hand," she said.

"The corms Co which are similar to bulbs Co are planted by hand and later dug and divided by hand.

"Harvesting of the flowers is done by hand: there are three stigmas per flower.

"You then dry the stigmas, which is the only part of the process which is mechanised.

"We then package the dried spice by hand."

For the couple, who came to the agricultural sector from a varied business and professional background, the gamble to try something different is paying off.

"We moved to the Granite Belt from Goondiwindi six years ago," Mrs Leming said.

"We had always said we would settle down in Stan- thorpe.

"So as our kids finished school and we started working out what we would do next, we bought land here."

Buying Nature's Glen, a 165-acre property at Glen Aplin, was indicative of the couple's inclination to step outside the square.

"I grew up on a dairy farm, so I always loved farming, and Russ always loved having avegetable garden, so we just took it a step further," she said.

The couple came to their latest venture from a diverse business background.

Mr Leming is an accountant by profession, and the couple's commercial interests have varied from a hairdressing salon, to a computer and print and copy shop and a Heritage Building Society Agency.

Today they balance off-farm work with an environmentally sustainable agricultural enterprise, which has seen the production of saffron along with honey, jams and their popular Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup.

But it is the exotic spice, with its seasoning and colouring qualities, which is generating wide-spread consumer and market interest.

"We started experimenting with saffron after I read an article on the spice," Mrs Leming said.

"As a plant it really liked the cold, in fact the colder the better, so I knew it would cope with Stanthorpe."

Yet their early plans were nearly thwarted by the difficulty of sourcing the plant's corms within Australia.

"The hardest part was finding some corms, and eventually we were able to buy some from Tasmania," she said. …

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