NMSU researchers introduce new line of green chile made for mechanical harvest

New Mexico News

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexicans take their green chile seriously. And so do New Mexico State University researchers who are working on developing the ‘perfect’ green chile pepper to be harvested mechanically.

The color, crunch, and spice are part of what make green chile so loved. However, they can be a tough crop for growers.

“Chile is a really labor-intensive crop and so in order for the United States to be competitive with the wages they pay here, we really have to mechanize,” Dr. Stephanie Walker, NMSU Chile Researcher and Cooperative Extension Service vegetable specialist, said.

It’s something Dr. Walker has been working on for more than 20 years. She and her colleagues have been trying to breed the ‘perfect’ green chile pepper to be harvested by their machine.

“One that can, that we can very efficiently pick from a plant without leaving any behind and without damaging the fruit that are picked,” Dr. Walker said. “What we’d like to be able to do is go through, with a machine, pick all the good fruit, the marketable, you know, fully-sized green fruit…We want zero breakage, very little physical damage to the fruit, and then ideally, we’d like to leave the plants intact, healthy enough, that they can grow another set of fruit.”

The researchers think they’ve done it and are introducing the new line of green chile made for mechanical harvesting. Its proposed name is Nu Mex Odyssey.

“Joe E. Parker was one of the parents, the other parent was the Despanado,” Dr. Walker said. “We’re just happy we have a plant architectured fruit to really work with this.”

Joe Parker was chosen for the plant’s architecture which Dr. Walker said worked well with the harvesting machine. The despanado chile was chosen for its genes that make stems easy to detach. According to NMSU, stems perfectly detached from Odyssey fruit 68% of the time as opposed to 34% for AZ 1904 peppers and 24% for Joe E. Parker peppers. Easy stem removal is an important trait for green peppers that will be processed.

““In a processing plant where you are getting thousands of pounds of chile through the system, you have to remove the stem, or otherwise it creates woody material in the processed food,” Walker said in press release.

Of course, no green chile would be perfect without that perfect taste. “It definitely has the flavor profile of Joe Parker, it tends to be a little milder in heat than Joe Parker,” Walker said. She said it’ll be a while before growers can start harvesting Nu Mex Odyssey saying the seed count needs to increase and growers would need the harvesting machine.

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