Chile import inspections intensify at New Mexico border | Lifestyles: Food, Home, Health

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — New Mexico’s green chili season is in full swing as the aroma of fresh roasted peppers fills the air, but Mexican growers and exporters are just as busy and it’s causing a slump in the international border.

Authorities said Monday that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture inspectors process dozens of chili imports daily at the port of entry in Columbus, New Mexico. They are looking for pests in shipments that could affect domestic production in New Mexico, where the green chili is a flagship crop and cultural icon.

“Chile is a huge crop for farmers in New Mexico, so it’s important that CBP agriculture specialists identify and prevent any dangerous pests from entering the state and potentially spreading,” the official said. Acting Port of Columbus Director Sam Jimenez in a statement.

As part of “Operation Hot Chile,” Jimenez said agricultural inspectors were being assigned to Columbus from other locations to help deal with increased traffic.

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Inspectors will process approximately 100 chili shipments per day during the busiest part of the season. The Mexican import season is busiest between September and October, but can extend into mid-December. Last year, they handled just under 11,000 shipments of red and green peppers from Mexico.

Imports have increased significantly each season, with inspectors seeing an increase of almost 25% since 2016. Authorities expect continued growth this year.

Despite increased imports, New Mexico farmers are getting higher yields from their crops and the state’s reputation for growing what many have called “the best green chili in the world” is growing, Travis said. Day, executive director of the New Mexico Chile Association.

Harvesting of the state’s chili begins in late July, but kicks off in August. The day spent Monday sampling green chili cheeseburgers at the New Mexico State Fair while recovering from the annual chili festival in Hatch, New Mexico, just a week ago, where it spoke to people from New York, Kansas, and even Hawaii who flew in to get their fix.

“As an industry, we’re in a unique place where the demand is the highest it’s ever been and it continues to increase every year,” he said.

Yet fewer acres of chili are being grown in New Mexico today due to labor pressure and dwindling irrigation resources. While most commercial acreage is started from seed, some farmers have reverted to transplanting seedlings to give their crops a boost. Farmers are also working with engineers to develop a mechanical harvester.

So far this season, officials said New Mexico’s green chili harvest was more than 10 days ahead of schedule and experts expect between 55,000 and 60,000 tons of peppers are harvested.

Stephanie Walker, a vegetable specialist at New Mexico State University, said growers in New Mexico have become adept at minimizing losses from disease problems brought on by heavy summer rains and yields of new varieties of green pepper increases.

At the port of entry, all Mexican imports from Chile undergo an X-ray examination. This is followed by a physical inspection by a Customs and Border Protection specialist who looks for pests, diseases and any contaminated soil or seeds harmful.

If anything is found, digital images are sent to US Department of Agriculture officials who determine whether the shipment can be released or returned.

In 2021, inspections resulted in 25 cases where shipments had to be returned to Mexico.

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