Are New Mexico’s green chiles in peril?

Green chile pepper season is wrapping up, and New Mexico farmers are anxious. Dwindling yields due to extreme weather patterns and more competition with foreign farmers are particularly a concern this year.

The chiles are New Mexico’s state vegetable, and represent what oranges are to Florida, or peanuts to Virginia: a symbolic source of pride and joy. The governor’s office claims the industry contributes $400 million annually to the land of enchantment’s economy.

This year’s yield, which will be known in a few weeks, is in danger due a cool spring that delayed growth, a record breaking summer heat index and unusually heavy fall rains. In short, natural growth progression was stunted. The fall precipitation is a predominant concern because it has delayed picking. Green chiles turn red within 7 days, fetching a lower sale price on the market. The crop’s value to the state declined sharply from $65.4 million in 2012 to 2013’s estimated $49.5. million.

The roughly $15 million gap has given New Mexican farmers less revenue to employ pickers, and they are faced with higher labor costs than competing plantations in China, India, Mexico and Peru, which can outpace their supply cheaply.

“I just got my fingers crossed, hoping and praying that we can get it all picked,” Faron Lytle, a chile farmer in the state, told the Los Angeles Times.

About 82 percent of chile peppers in the United States are now imported, reports Reuters.

Support PBS NewsHour: