The New Mexican chile is an iconic and ubiquitous part of our state’s culture that draws tourists across our borders for the unique flavor and heat of our southwestern cuisine. Harvested on 9,100 acres across our state, New Mexican farmers produced 63,075 tons of chiles in 2019, and last year, New Mexican scientists even found a way to grow our chiles in space.
While New Mexico’s chile industry is an important part of our culture, it is also critical to our state’s economy. As the leading chile producer in the nation, the industry supports more than 5,000 jobs and contributes over $450 million to the state’s economy.
However, today, our farmers and ranchers are struggling amid drought conditions, worker shortages, foreign competition and lack of demand as a result of restaurant closures from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, these challenges could be exacerbated by recent actions in the state legislature. Right now, more than 20 bills moving through the Roundhouse stand to adversely impact these businesses – making it more difficult and costly to do business in New Mexico.
While the agricultural industry is resilient, the majority of our farms and ranches are small businesses with more than 90 percent family or individually owned. House Bill 20, in particular, would dramatically increase costs for small businesses and create an insolvable operating environment.
Several proposed bills would jeopardize water supplies for farmers, undermine existing farming practices by increasing costs and use of crop improvement chemicals and leave the agricultural industry vulnerable to unnecessary litigation from activists.
But what does this mean to you, New Mexican’s that are not in these businesses? As costs and regulations increase, our food processors and manufactures will close or move operations resulting in fewer opportunities to find work. Your kids will have to leave the state to find their career. As farms and ranches file for bankruptcy in response to these policies we will be forced to rely on foreign grown and processed foods that do not have the same food safety requirements as we do.
We have already seen our iconic chile industry diminish due to increased chile imports from Mexico and other countries. These policies could make it unprofitable to grow chile in New Mexico eliminating our states staple. We are already on that path and need to support our farmers.
The New Mexico Chile Association is concerned with the state of affairs in the Roundhouse. To address these issues, we joined a coalition of more than 20 business groups calling on our state legislators to focus their efforts on helping our state economy recover and rebuild.
Already, New Mexico is ranked in the bottom three states for best places to do business. We cannot allow bad policy to jeopardize our way of life and create a debilitating business environment that disincentives new investment in our communities now and in the future.
While we are hopeful that New Mexico has a bright future ahead, we know we cannot afford to squander new opportunities with bad legislation. State legislators need to work in tandem with our farmers, ranchers, and other businesses – both small and large – to build a better future for all New Mexicans.
Joram Robbs is the executive director for the New Mexico Chile Association.