The Supposed New Mexico "Chile Crisis"

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Chile Harvesting, Mesilla Valley, New MexicoWhen the media get wind of a typical change in the ever-fluctuating world of economic agriculture, they just have to turn it into a crisis. Take the drop in harvested chile acreage over the last decade or so—down to 8,700 acres from a high of 29,000. Is this a "crisis" or merely a reflection of economic reality? I think the latter. Chiles compete against other crops that are often more profitable to grow: pecans, cotton, and even onions. Also contributing are the loss of agricultural land to development, cheaper imports from Mexico, and the necessity to use human labor to harvest green chile. (Red chile can be mechanically harvested, but not green...yet.)

Kraig Kraft, coauthor of a new book, Chasing Chiles, wrote an op-ed piece the the Albuquerque Journal (5-15-11) in which part of the headline refers to "fake N.M. chiles," a reference to chiles from Mexico that are imported for processing in southern New Mexico because local growers can't keep up with demand due to the competition from other crops. But ignored in this discussion is the fact that these are New Mexico varieties like 'NuMex 6-4 Heritage', developed by Dr. Paul Bosland's chile breeding team, and the seeds provided to Mexican growers. If you really, really want your chile, does it really matter if it is grown in the Mesilla Valley or 100 miles south of there in Chihuahua?  I don't think so.

The real problems lie below the surface of the hype and screaming of "fake chiles."  Here they are:

1.  The real fake chiles are "Hatch chiles."  There is no such thing.  "Hatch chiles" are a complete fabrication.  There is no such variety.  Hatch farmers devote most of their fields to alfalfa, and cannot possibly grow all the chiles labeled with the name of that tiny town.

2. New Mexican varieties are only part of the crop processed in southern New Mexico.  Even more important are the cayennes, paprika (non-pungent red chiles, by definition), and jalapeños.

3.  The New Mexico chiles deserving what Kraft calls "geographic indicators" (similar to Idaho potatoes and Florida oranges) are the endangered heirloom or land race chiles of northern New Mexico, like 'Chimayo'.

The recently-passed New Mexico Chile Advertising Act, which supposedly prohibits the advertising of chiles listed as New Mexican but not grown in the state, is a joke.  It is totally unenforceable, which renders it useless, and is another attempt by politicians to place a "legal fix" upon what is really just an economic fact of life brought on by changing times, NAFTA, and the ability of farmers in other countries to grow New Mexican varieties to meet the demand here.

Comments (6)

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Greetings Dave,
I hope this finds you well.
I've enjoyed seeing your increased presence all over the damn media spectrum.
And I always, always love seeing your and Mary Jane's smiley faces together doing your do.

leaving all the other of this weeks missive to the experts, I just want to express my disgust and sad lack of surprise that something as simple and elegant as honesty in NM chile origin can, will be, and apparently is now - gone to the jackals (no offense meant to the jackal clan).
I wonder what is the eventual end for the times where acts and deeds are preceded and discussed afterwards as "an economic fact of life brought on by changing times"

Yours truly,
Emory Joseph
E. Joseph , May 30, 2011
Pat, that is the USDA's definition, not mine. In the U.S., according to the feds, paprika is any non-pungent dried red capsicum.
Dave , May 30, 2011
.......Spain (pimeñto).......

Try pronouncing the n with tilde without a trailing vowel

If you think what the media presents is the news or in any way factual, you will be disappointed.
Genoveo De La O , May 30, 2011
I get a kick out of folks who don't know beans about chile growing. Chile grows anywhere in the world except in extreme freezing climates and is inherit to pickup its nutrients from the dirt it grows in. Chile has a habit of changing flavor depending on what type of dirt it is born and matures in. Sure you can add all kinds of man made or other processed nutrients to speed its growth. That will have an effect on final flavor whether hot or mild. New Mexico has the best dirt for growing chiles with a unique flavor only inherit to the area it is grown at. And even then, not all areas are the same for growing green chile. I wish my old friend Roy Nakayama was still around to continue his experiments. I at one time experimented with trying to grow green chiles in Hawaii. It was a no go...So much for me becoming the Chile King of Hawaii. I did help introduce pickled jalapenos in escabeche for the nacho craze. Hawaiians were more apt to use chiles grown in the far east and that have been a standard cooking ingrediant for thousands of years
Dion Dorado , May 24, 2011
Hi Pope.
Great article. Love your debunking of the press. They are the same here (in the UK). Panic creatorssmilies/angry.gif

But I diasagree that Parika is by definition non-pungent. Paprika is the Hungarian word for 'Chile' and you can get very pungent paprika. Guess you know that really smilies/wink.gif
(and of course it is grown in Hungary, Spain (pimeñto), South Africa and,no doubt the US.
PS. It's about as fake as Barak's Irish connection. He's there today with O'Riley, O'Rowd and O'Malley. So expect a spell change of his name to O'Bama smilies/grin.gif
King of Curries , May 23, 2011
You're correct about the "Hatch chile" fabrication, but I'm sure you'll still get a fair share of hate mail from the 87937 zip code. smilies/wink.gif

And being from Iowa I care more about the type of chile than where they are grown. Does Tabasco brand sauce lose any of its hyped-up luster when made from chiles grown in Central America, but still of the same variety?
slakingfool , May 18, 2011

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