When planning an activity which involves the processing of agricultural raw materials, especially short-term perishable products as is the case with fruits and vegetables, accurate planning must take place, to avoid coordination problems. This will prevent significant raw material losses, which often happens in home processing and small industrial scale systems.
Planning is necessary even when very small processing systems are involved, in which the raw material is practically supplied by own production sources. For example, it is possible to conceive a production program based on a large number of families that obtain their products from very small family-run orchards, and then process them in their own home-made installations. It is also possible to produce a given product on a joint basis, so that the production of different centers or families may be sold together and enjoy the benefits of joint marketing. In this case, it becomes crucial to provide a uniform product, to use high-quality raw material in all cases, and naturally, to exactly know the potential volumes to be produced, so as to efficiently determine the marketing mechanism. Such a mechanism begins with planning the production of the raw material.
The relationship between raw materials and processing techniques encompasses a series of aspects which range from the selection of a given variety or cultivar of a species, to post-harvest handling and the preservation of the quality of the material to be processed.
In this connection, it should be considered that every processed product requires a specific raw material, if excellent quality levels are to be achieved. There is no reason why a product processed at the level of cottage industries or on a small industrial scale should be of a lower quality than one processed on an industrial scale. To the contrary, home or small scale processing techniques should give better results, as the process is looked after more specifically, the individual units are better controlled, and the raw material may be handled appropriately.
There are many different choices possible within a species, for there are varieties or cultivars that present significant differences in terms of their intrinsic characteristics and nature.
To develop a sound industrialization or processing system, it is important to choose the material that presents the best specific characteristics in relation to the purpose of the procedure.
This means that several characteristics of the final product will depend upon the nature of the raw material. For example, a good tomato sauce can only be obtained by using very red tomatoes, at the right stage of maturation, with a firm pulp to ensure a good texture, and with an appropriate content of solids. If the final product is mango nectar, it is preferable to use varieties with little or no fibre, of a bright colour, not astringent and sweet. For pickled cucumbers, it is better to use varieties with a smooth skin, of an intense green colour, cylinder-shaped and with a firm texture.
Therefore, every product will require a raw material that will meet the minimum quality standards that guarantee its suitability for the market. The characteristics vary at times, when consumer have very peculiar preferences when it comes to a given product.
The way in which a certain raw material is cultivated, harvest and post-harvest care will determine the material's quality, as stated in the corresponding chapter.
All of these aspects are especially easy to take care of through small-scale production systems, where the goods are handled almost exclusively by hand.
However, it is important to consider that especially in such cases, the site of primary production and the processing facility must be close to each other. Indeed, appropriate harvest or post-harvest handling normally cannot be achieved for small volumes when the distance between the orchard and the processing site is great.
When the harvests are small in volume and the distance is great, to save on transportation costs one must resort to initially storing the goods on the production site, but this has a detrimental effect on the quality of the material. If the processing plant is adjacent to the site of production, then all of the problems related to temporary storage are solved, and the material may be processed more rapidly after the harvest.
Finally, it is advisable to adopt a production rationale based on the production of the species presenting comparative advantages in terms of nutritional value, greater demand by potential consumers, and a higher market value, if the products are to be marketed outside the community of origin. This especially applies to raw materials with a greater production cost and for unknown or exotic products.
An industrial production process normally gives an added value to the product. When using a raw material of great value, the added value will be proportionally lower to that of a material whose quality was poorer at the beginning and which acquires a much greater value as a finished product.
It is therefore preferable for the value of a product to increase as a result of processing, as generally speaking, the product will generate a greater demand and will be more widely accepted.
It is not profitable to use costly processes for very inexpensive raw materials, except for the cases in which the demand is great. An example of this would be frozen peas, where the raw material is relatively cheap and the processing procedure is one of the most expensive, but large-volume production amply justifies this approach.
In species of a greater value, the use of expensive technologies may be justified, as the process only accounts for a small part of the total cost of the product whose raw material is quite valuable.
Every time an industrial production process is planned, whether it be on a small, medium or large industrial scale, there must be some consistency between the potential supply of raw material at the plant and the capacity of the installations to be set up.
Of the two extreme cases that may occur, excessive supply and a shortage of supplies, the former is more difficult to cope with by home production systems. The only way to change the capacity of a small home-processing plant, which is mainly based on manual procedures, is by increasing the number of staff. But this solution is complicated if the workers are not trained to meet the same production, productivity and quality standards as the rest of the permanent staff.
If a temporary or unexpected shortage of supplies occurs, on the other hand, the problem may be solved by working on alternative jobs like labelling, packaging, cleaning the installations, or engaging in other useful tasks. Obviously, devoting excessive time to such jobs may prove to be very expensive in the long run, but at least it allows for some readjustment in times of emergency.
Appropriate planning is required in a small industrial scale plant, for any adjustments weigh more heavily on profitability than they do in a cottage industry. A shortage of supplies may cause serious problems because the installations remain idle, but an excess of supplies may determine even greater problems due to the inflexible nature of the machines.
Indeed, a machine is less flexible than man.