NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – It’s green chile season, and it’s not just locally grown chile that’s making its way to the table. Chile pepper imports from Mexico are on the rise as well, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

This year, New Mexico’s chile growers are looking to make a comeback from several years of high prices, a shortage of workers, and a slew of other pandemic-related challenges. But the state’s growers will have to compete with chile grown south of the border.

Each year, Mexico-based chile producers send thousands of shipments of chile up into the U.S., according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). To make sure those shipments don’t hide anything illegal and don’t contain pests that could harm the local chile crop, CBP says they process around 100 shipments a day in the peak of chile season.

Many of the shipments come through the Columbus, New Mexico port of entry. And while some of the chile likely ends up on local tables, industry experts say imported chile is also sent to other states with high demand.

Over the last few decades, local New Mexico chile growers have been watching the imports from Mexico closely. In the early 2000s, New Mexico State University (NMSU) researchers noted that the low cost of labor in Mexico means that imported chile could threaten local markets.

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Chile packed into large plastic bins is trucked through U.S. borders. Image from CBP.

In the 1990s, chile imports from Mexico rose dramatically, thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), according to NMSU researchers. Numbers from CBP show that chile imports continue to rise. There were just over 8,900 imports in 2016, according to CBP. Last year, there were just under 11,000 shipments. And they say they expect even more in 2022.

For CBP workers, that means more inspections to ensure no pests make it into the U.S. “Chile is a huge crop for farmers in New Mexico so it is important that CBP agriculture specialists identify and stop any dangerous pests from making it into the state and potentially spreading to domestic operations,” acting CBP Columbus Port Director Sam Jimenez said in a press release.

For New Mexico’s chile growers, increasing imports means increasing competition: “Our biggest problem is bringing in product from Mexico,” Terry Adams, a Hatch-based grower told KRQE News 13. “We can’t compete with Mexico.”