For chiles, 2020 wasn’t all bad as New Mexico farmers reported increased production and yield levels for the state’s most famous crop despite pressures associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

Numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Agriculture Department’s statistics service show 68,000 plenty of red and green chile were produced last year. That’s an 8% increase over the previous year. the worth of the crop also increased to just about $52 million.

“Chile today and hot tamale! That’s the weather outlook ,” joked Jeff Witte, head of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture .

He said the positive numbers are a tribute to New Mexico’s farmers, who weathered labor shortages and reduced demand as restaurants and other venues were forced to shut . He pointed to the ripple effects of the industry beyond the farm, saying that the crop forms the idea of salsas, sauces and other mainstream products.

New Mexico’s chile peppers have woven their way into the state’s cultural identity over centuries, and their distinct flavor has been adopted by palates round the world.

The state in 2014 even adopted its own trademark and certification program to guard the reputation and integrity of the signature crop, very similar to Idaho has capitalized on potatoes, Maine has its lobsters and Florida has its fresh fruits and juices.

Chile experts contend there’s no mistaking the taste of latest Mexico’s hot peppers. There’s some science involved, as researchers at New Mexico State University say soil conditions, warmer temperatures, the proper amount of water and a extended season end in a singular flavor.

The 2020 crop was helped by a light season that was warm and dry — just what chile plants like.

Joram Robbs, executive of the New Mexico Chile Association, said the tonnage and yield increases are often attributed to technological advancements that include better genetics.

But there are still challenges on the horizon, including decreased demand because the restaurant industry has yet to recover. Robbs said some processors and distributors have reported up to a 40% decrease in sales that normally would are sold to restaurants.

Then there are systemic labor issues that started before the pandemic and are expected to continue into the longer term .

“It is tough to seek out folks that want to figure during this industry anymore and it’s not about the wages they receive,” Robbs said. “Most of the pickers are making overflow wage , but people are moving faraway from eager to work on a farm or during a processing facility.”

He said increased costs and regulations are also worrying farmers this year along side predictions from forecasters that New Mexico and far of the Southwest might be certain above-average warm and dry conditions. Water managers along the Rio Grande and Pecos have already got warned farmers that this year’s irrigation allotments are going to be among historic lows thanks to less snowpack.

Foreign competition is yet one more factor, Robbs said.

“Imported chile are often sold for much but chile grown in New Mexico and as costs and regulations increase within the state, many farmers won’t be ready to compete,” he said.

The latest data shows nearly 80% of the 2020 crop was sold for processing, with the remaining getting to the fresh market.

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