Farmers see ‘perfect’ green chile harvest but face worker shortage

New Mexico News

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – It’s harvest season in New Mexico and it’s a good crop. However, farmers are facing a big obstacle that could leave chile left unpicked and possibly a hike in prices.

“There’s a lot of fruit out there in New Mexico. The plants just had perfect growing conditions this year. Early on, we were really concerned about the drought and lack of rain and the lack of irrigation water, but when the rain started coming in June it came at a perfect time, brought those temperatures down to 95 and below and that’s really where chile needs to be at to grow well,” said Jarom Robbs, executive director of the New Mexico Chile Association.

Now the industry is facing a different problem: a shortage in labor. Right now, there is no machine to pick chile and it can only be picked by hand. Robbs estimates the industry is facing about a 40% shortage in labor in the industry, which could lead to chile being left unpicked. Robbs points to the pandemic and unemployment benefits.

“We’re pretty concerned about the labor issue. We’re, have our fingers crossed hopefully come August and September, people start coming out and working some more when we kind of hit the peak of the season,” said Robbs.

Green chile left unpicked will mature into red chile but, it still hurts farmers’ bottom line. “There’s really not a big red chile market. Most red chile is coming in from imports now because it’s a lot easier to buy from imported chile,” said Robbs. “When it turns red, it basically is done, once it goes from green to red here in New Mexico. that whole crop right there is wasted.”

The chile season is coming slightly early thanks to good growing conditions and in part to transplant fields, where farmers grow chile in a greenhouse until it’s about four or five inches tall, then move it to the field. Robbs also said green chile may also cost a little more at the grocery store this year as labor costs have gone up all the way through the supply and distribution chain.

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