Texas weather favors chile pepper production

The recent cool temperatures and rainfall should leave the spring's chile pepper crop hot, reports Texas Cooperative Extension.

Planting has already begun for the spicy vegetable in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso areas, and should begin in late April for the High Plains.

However, planting times are not the only variation seen throughout the state; soil moisture conditions also differ.

“The soil should be in pretty good shape,” said Dr. Kevin Crosby, pepper breeder with the Texas Agricultural Expe-riment Station in Weslaco. He said early rains have helped restore soil moisture.

Dr. David Bender, horticulturist with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Lubbock, said the area could use some rain. “We are kinda dry right now. However we usually expect rains from mid-March on.”

Dr. Jamie Iglesias, Extension agent in El Paso, said too much rain can have a negative effect because with “excessive soil moisture, the chiles will not germinate.”

Harvest dates for chiles also vary across the state. In the Rio Grande Valley, Crosby said, producers should harvest in late May through June. In the High Plains, Bender predicts a harvest starting in late July that will continue through the first of November.

“Between El Paso and Hudspeth County, we expect to plant around a thousand acres,” Iglesias said, adding they expect to start harvesting the crop in mid-September.

Valley producers hope to plant 1,000 acres, and the High Plains farmers predict at least 3,000 acres planted.

While both the High Plains and the El Paso area only plant a spring chile crop, the Valley has both a spring and a fall crop, Crosby said. He said growers plant few chile peppers in the spring due to insect and disease pressure.

More are planted in the fall because the cooler weather makes a higher quality fruit; hotter weather, commonly experienced in the Valley, causes a lower quality fruit.

Jalapeños are grown throughout the state, with paprika varieties, used for processed foods, being grown mostly in West Texas. Bender said some cayenne and other specialty peppers are grown in the High Plains area.

More and more, chiles are seen as an alternative, rather than a primary crop, because the trend over the last 15 years has been to shift chile production into Mexico. “Labor is the number one production cost with chiles,” Crosby said.

With creation of North American Free Trade Agreement, Bender said, labor-rich Mexico attracted much of the state's corporate contracts because of cheaper labor costs. Chiles are considered labor intensive because they are mostly hand-picked.

“There used to be thousands of acres of chile production right around here,” Crosby said.

The exception is the High Plains where “quite a few chiles are mechanically harvested,” Bender said. Mechanization has helped producers in that area control production costs better than other regions of the state that rely on manual labor.

An environment less susceptible to disease and insects allows producers in the High Plains to keep their costs under control, Crosby said.

“We see more and more interested farmers in the High Plains because they can grow some really nice peppers because they have less disease issues,” he said.

This report was prepared the communication,Texas A&M University.

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