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Published July 16, 2010, 10:32 AM

Odd weather leads to later New Mexico chile harvest

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Prolonged cool springtime temperatures followed by a heat wave in June add up to a delayed and likely smaller New Mexico chile harvest, growers say.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Prolonged cool springtime temperatures followed by a heat wave in June add up to a delayed and likely smaller New Mexico chile harvest, growers say.

Hatch-area grower Shayne Franzoy probably won’t begin harvesting his 200 acres of chile until early to mid-August, about three weeks later than normal. Last year, he started bringing chile in on July 25.

“We’re hoping to start by the 8th of August, but we don’t even know yet,” Franzoy said. “It depends on what happens between now and then.”

Abnormally cool weather resulted in a “very slow start” for the state’s chile fields, said Stephanie Walker, cooperative extension vegetable specialist at New Mexico State University. June’s heat wave added stress to plants. That’s in contrast to last year, which had excel-lent growing conditions.

Walker said she does not expect lower chile pod quality, just a later-than-usual harvest.

“Chile probably will start trickling in the first week of August, but we won’t hit full stride until Aug. 16,” she said.

New Mexico growers harvested about 12,300 acres of red and green chile last year. The 72,700-ton chile crop was valued at $57.4 million, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Nearly half of the production was from Dona Ana County.

Pests and disease are not much of a concern this year, except for chile plant-killing curly top disease, which has shown up in some areas.

Danise Coon, program coordinator and researcher with the New Mexico Chile Pepper Institute, said the organization is preparing to host an international pepper conference that will draw researchers from around the world. It’s slated for Sept. 12-14.

Chile acreage harvested in the New Mexico has been going up since 2007, when it reached a low of 11,000 acres. Walker said the industry’s growth will depend on developing successful mechanical green chile harvesters.

“Consumers want to buy New Mexico chile; it’s good stuff,” Walker said. “We just need to make sure we can compete with other countries.”

While shoppers might already have seen green chile pods in local grocery stores, it’s not locally produced, Walker said.

“Any green chile they see now is coming from other areas far, far away,” she said.

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