Ongoing concern over the viability of the
New Mexico Chile industry spurs discussion about foreign competition, plant disease, mechanization, and the “what ifs”
of genetically modified chile.
Like the issues that have resulted in the
New Mexico chile industry losing 75% of harvested acres in nearly 20 years, the discussions about how to turn this dark trend
around is extremely complex. The solutions will be found in equalizing the cost advantage leveraged by
foreign competition, finding a way to stop chile plant diseases and to mechanically harvest and de-stem are also complex.
Traditional breeding solutions to combat diseases like (Phytophthora and
Verticillium ) have not been successful. On behalf of the industry, the New Mexico Chile Association (NMCA)
asked New Mexico State University (NMSU) to help identify possible solutions to plant disease and other important industry
A team of NMSU researchers are using recognized
methods of crossing a gene from one chile plant to another and searching for genes in related plants to impart resistance
against the most virulent of chile plant diseases. This research also has wider implications such as eventual
mapping of the gene sequence which could help expedite traditional breeding efforts and could save millions of dollars.
The industry, and specifically, chile farmers are encouraged by this research.
Preventing major chile plant diseases could have huge implications in reigniting the industry and ensuring that our
chile culture continues for generations. New Mexico chile processors, who want the crop to continue to
be grown in our state, are also encouraged by these developments.
despite reports to the contrary, this is all still in the research phase. Chile currently produced and
processed by our members is grown using traditional methods. The NMSU research is needed and valued, but
it is just research.
Some fringe groups
have slandered and libeled our members by implying they are currently using GMO chile, despite the fact that none is available
at this time. Another misperception is that the industry is partnering with multi-national
companies to develop strains of “super” chile. These are all false and are generated by people
who are more interested in generating headlines and sound bites than working with the industry to find viable solutions to
save a chile culture.
Ironically, these claims are negatively impacting
family owned operations and small businesses. When these businesses are impacted, it only provides more
market share to foreign competitors with an already large advantage in the international market place. That
puts the New Mexico chile industry, many New Mexico companies and farmers out of business, and leaving their employees without
Although genetic breeding solutions are not necessarily the
preferable solution, they are widely used and have value. The Hawaiian papaya industry faced a similar
dilemma a few years ago. Growers and processors invested in research and actually saved the papaya industry
from devastation through a genetic solution. If genetic modification saved other culturally important crops, such as papaya,
maybe it can even save chile.