Drought, Labor Shortages Putting New Mexico Green Chiles In Danger

One of New Mexico's most iconic crops, green chiles, are facing an uncertain future as the industry contemplates shifting toward using machines for harvesting and de-stemming.

Green chiles, which top everything from burgers to enchiladas, have always been picked by hand. But recently, farmers have seen their production fall to a 43-year state low due to labor shortages, shrinking acreage, drought, and foreign competition, according to The Associated Press.

These issues have opened the door for inventors such as Elad Etgar, whose chile-harvesting machine is currently being tested.

"So far, everyone supports it but we will have to see," Etgar told The Associated Press.

Machines have historically struggled when harvesting green chiles because they would often bruise them and had problems removing the stems. Regardless, the current issues in the industry are making the use of these machines necessary. 

 "The labor force is getting older and not a lot of young people are getting into the business," added Ed Ogaz, owner of Seco Spice Co., a New Mexico-based chile wholesaler. "Something needs to happen."

Ogaz said that he prefers old methods, and is reserving judgment on the machines until he sees their results.

New Mexico's green chile industry saw a 10 percent decline in acres of chiles harvested in 2014. The chile industry also suffered a drop in value, after federal numbers estimated their value at $38.7 million in 2014, compared to $49.5 million in 2013.