LAS CRUCES (KRQE) – The green chile harvest is in full swing, but farmers are planting far less than they used to.
“It is part of the art. It is part of the culture. They’re practically part of our soul here in New Mexico. It would be a great tragedy if we lost the chile industry here in New Mexico,” said Stephanie Walker, a vegetable specialist at New Mexico State University.
Last year, New Mexico farmers used 8,600 acres to plant green chile. That is only a quarter of what farmers used in the state two decades ago. The drought is partly to blame with record low water levels in the Rio Grande. To make up for it, farmers use well water but it is saltier and can affect yields.
“Surface water is wonderful,” Walker said. “It’s very easy for growers to apply. It’s very high quality water and growers miss that when in drought conditions. They don’t get the full allotment they’re used to.”
So, some have gotten creative and changed their crops.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture shows farmers in New Mexico are planting a wider variety of specialty crops like pecans and melons.
Then, there is the threat of competition from places like Mexico where chile costs less to grow.
They may be able to beat New Mexico prices, but they can’t beat its reputation. That is why the state is certifying the hot commodity.
The New Mexico Chile Association said it has watched sales drop recently. The group believes it is because of imitators, claiming their products were grown here.