NM chile industry stabilized after years of decline

From the Carlsbad Current-Argus - By Diana Alba Soular - In the early '90s, chile was king in New Mexico. The state's favorite crop, in its many varieties, hit an all-time high in 1992 of 34,500 acres harvested. But that was before a landmark international free trade agreement, NAFTA, took effect, gradually slashing tariffs on products moving between the United States and its closest neighbors.
     New Mexico chile farmers and experts recall that the state's once-robust jalepeƱo industry took a sharp nosedive in the late '90s, as farming of the crop shifted to Mexico. Some of the fresh green-chile farming, too, followed, though the decline hasn't been as severe, experts said.
     About a decade ago, chile's future in New Mexico seemed especially bleak, said Stephanie Walker, Cooperative Extension specialist at New Mexico State University. "We had chile flooding the market from all parts of the world," she said. "Those were probably the darkest days." Other competitors, such as China, ramped up farming of red chile, which has a much longer shelf life and hence can be shipped farther than green chile with no problems, experts said.
     The declining acreage in New Mexico continued throughout the 2000s. Last year, acreage harvested totaled about 9,600 -- about a 70 percent drop from the record high.But some experts and farmers say the industry appears to have stabilized in recent years and may even be on the uptick. But some farmers of the crop said they still face a spectrum of hurdles, such as a shrinking pool of field laborers and continued pressure from foreign competitors, that create uncertainty about the future. More