NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Chile farmers across the state say they’re facing challenges getting the state’s most popular crop into the hands of consumers. Farmers across the state say this season looks a little different due to the pandemic.
“Farmers have started at a 50% labor shortage and that’s a problem. We’ve come through a terrible drought. We’re going to make the crop, but COVID has changed a lot of stuff,” said farmer Glen Duggins.
Duggins owns Five Star Chile near Soccorro and he says he’s already behind. “It’s going to be a rough one. I can see it coming,” said Duggins.
According to the New Mexico Chile Association, there are a ton of chile in fields across the state, but the lack of manpower will impact just how much chile gets harvested.
“There’s a small window where chile can be picked fresh green and when you don’t have enough people picking it starts drying and aging and going into red chile out in the field,” said Joram Robbs, Executive Director, NM Chile Association.
The labor shortage isn’t just on the farms. “On the processor side, if they get backed up with chile and can’t take anymore from the field to process or distribute,” said Robbs.
Farmers say they are doing their best to keep up and many distributors have started selling directly to customers. “They are going to make sure that New Mexico’s favorite crop,” said Robbs.
State Agriculture Secretary Jeff Witte believes consumers can expect to see more chile at roadside stands and local markets very soon. “The next two or three weeks are going to be a hot time, so to speak, to get our great signature New Mexico crop,” said Witte.
Farmers say another hit they’ve taken is from the restaurant industry. They are operating at a limited capacity and aren’t ordering as much as they typically would during this time.