NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – There’s no doubt, New Mexico has seen record dry conditions this summer. As harvest begins for the state’s hallmark chile crops, there’s a mix of challenges and a different kind of heat according to growers.

“It looks good. The plants are good. If the rain kicks in, the monsoons, we’ll be in really good shape. That’s all we lack now is some rain,” said Big Jim Farms Owner, Jimmy Wagner.

Just weeks away from picking the first chile off his plants, Wagner is optimistic amid what’s been another tough season. “It’s been really challenging with the heat. It’s been hard on the plants. It seems like we can’t get enough water on them,” said Wagner.

The New Mexico chile association’s Travis Day agrees that the impacts are being felt statewide with some harvests happening earlier. “It pushed the season up, but it also gave the chile a little more heat level to it, a little more stress. We lost a little bit due to the heat but nothing in significant numbers. A positive to heat is there’s a lot of flavor in the chile and a lot of heat,” said Day.

Southern New Mexico harvests started in mid-July and other areas are expected to start in the next few weeks. While there’s been a drought, farmers are thankful for the higher water levels in the Rio Grande in the earlier parts of the season.

“So far, we are seeing good numbers when it comes to the 2023 yield. I think we’re going to project about staying the same, to about a 4% increase. Right now the kind of outstanding factor is the moisture and the monsoon season that’s upcoming,” Day noted.  

After years of labor shortages, the state’s chile crops are also seeing major changes with the mechanized harvest.

Day mentioned, “Last week we had our first load of New Mexico chile being picked by a machine.”

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Regular chile can’t survive machinery and must be handpicked. That’s where the NuMex Odyssey plant comes in. It’s a chile that was developed to survive machinery. “We’ve seen great success with it. We have the harvester actually working this year for us. It’s an exciting time to be involved in New Mexico chile, and it’s going to continue to grow as we move into the future,” Day added.

Before the harvest hits, chile farmers are waiting to see what the monsoon season does. In recent years, they’ve dealt with too much rain leading to standing water in the fields; a good way for the disease to set into the plants.