An assessment of the feasibility of quality indicators for the postharvest deterioration of sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum L.)
Sugarcane deterioration remains one of the most important supply chain efficiency leverage points in the South African sugar industry. Cane quality has been identified as an issue that has the potential to improve the overall efficiency of the sugarcane supply chain. A review comparing the postharvest quality management systems and measurements in the South African sugar and fresh produce industries was conducted. The difference in postharvest handling between the two industries was found to be an important factor dictating quality management. Advances in non-destructive quality measurement techniques and sanitation strategies were found in the fresh produce industries, which could be adopted by the South African sugar industry. An empirical study of standard sugar industry cane quality parameters was also performed. Sugarcane quality parameters measured at the Felixton mill were analysed, per ward, using quality control charts and non-parametric statistical approaches. A daily analysis of these parameters, as well as the Pol % Fibre ratio, using Shewhart quality control ( x ) charts revealed that, overall, Monday deliveries were of significantly lower quality (P<0.01). This is a quantitative indicator of logistics (or management) inefficiency over the weekend. Using the Mann-Whitney test, Pol % Fibre was used to generate a grower performance index, based on high levels of statistical significance (P<0.05), which may allow stakeholders to improve operations, through identifying the levels at which individual growers deliver significantly (P≤0.05) lower quality cane in the early part of the week. This study uncovered new and significant statistical trends within the sugar industry's quality database and demonstrates the potential of Pol % Fibre as an indicator of quality inferiority in the cane supply chain. To further investigate cane deterioration in this context, two burn/harvest-to-crush delay trials involving two sugarcane varieties (N12 and N31), which were exposed to ambient environmental conditions for a period of nine days after harvest were performed. On sampling dates, each variety was tested for quality parameters such as total bacterial counts, D-lactate production, and respiration. Standard sugar industry quality parameters and Pol % Fibre were also monitored. Parameters were measured in bottom, middle and top portions of the stalks to evaluate the effect of section on the parameter changes. Trial 1 was conducted on unburnt cane in October 2012 and Trial 2 on burnt cane, April-May 2013. Stalk portion significantly (P<0.001) affected the parameters, with the top and bottom portions showing higher bacterial proliferation, respiration rates and D-lactate production compared to the middle portion in Trial 1. Trial 2 showed no significant variability in stalk portion. In Trial 1, a significant (P<0.05) declining trend was noted for Brix % DM and Pol % Fibre in the top portion. The effect of higher respiration in the cut-ends in Trial 1 was noted in significantly reduced Pol % Fibre in these cut-ends. Environmental conditions were found to be the major factor influencing quality during the cane storage period. The study concludes, from both analysis of CTS data and the results of the BHTCD trials, that Pol % Fibre can be monitored at sugar mills as an additional parameter for signalling inferior quality and deterioration of cane consignments.