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NMSU developing perfect green chile pepper for mechanical harvest

There are many variables in producing the perfect New Mexico green chile pepper.


Two people kneeling by chile pepper plant
New Mexico State University researchers Brad Tonnessen and Stephanie Walker look at a NuMex Odyssey chile pepper plant that they have bred for easier harvesting. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)
Close up of destemmed chile pepper
The Odyssey chile pepper has a cleaner pedicel removal to for both hand harvest and mechanical harvest. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

Consumers select for flavor profile, and pepper pod size, shape, thickness and color. Agricultural producers want a high yielding plant with picture-perfect pods that are easy to harvest. Food producers want chile peppers with no stem and no damage to the pod.

New Mexico State University researchers have developed what is on its way to being the perfect chile pepper for mechanical harvest.

“After many years of traditional selective breeding, we have a new advanced green chile line with the proposed name NuMex Odyssey,” said Stephanie Walker, NMSU chile researcher and Cooperative Extension Service vegetable specialist.

The new green chile line, Odyssey, is the result of the NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences’ ongoing efforts to resolve issues associated with harvesting green chile.

“Because of difficulty in obtaining people to hand harvest the green chile, we have been working on a mechanized harvest system,” Walker said. “We began by identifying a harvester manufactured in Israel that gives us the most efficient pick of the chile compared to other machines tested.”

While testing various harvesters, the research team realized they needed some changes in the plant and chile pod.

“We worked on plant architecture and fruit attributes that would mechanically harvest better,” Walker said. “We needed the plant to have a strong, single stem with fewer basal branches. The low lying lateral branches interfered with the machine, causing it to uproot the plant. We also found that fruit setting slightly higher on the plant and also detaching from the plant with less force contributed to a cleaner mechanical pick.”

Fixing these traits in Odyssey resulted in higher mechanically harvested yield, with significantly less fruit loss in the field, compared to standard commercial green chile varieties.

While this plant architecture helps the harvest efficiency of the plant, Walker said another really exciting thing about the Odyssey variety is the destemming – pedicel removal – efficiency of the fruit.

“For green chile processing, we needed the pedicel – stem and calyx – to come off the fruit easier and cleaner,” she said. “Often when you pull the pedicel off of other varieties, you might either break it and partially leave it on the fruit, or you break the chile fruit.”

Pedicels perfectly detached from Odyssey fruit 68 percent of the time as opposed to 34 percent for AZ 1904 and 24 percent for NuMex Joe E. Parker.

“With Odyssey, we get very good, clean breaks,” she said. “This will also help hand-harvesting.”

Pedicel removal is very important for the quality of commercial processed green chile.

“In a processing plant where you are getting thousands of pounds of chile through the system, you have to remove the stem, or otherwise it creates woody material in the processed food,” said Walker, who began her work with chile as a quality control supervisor in a processing plant.

“Currently, with the 100 percent hand-harvest system, the people actually remove the pedicel out in the field,” she said. “When it doesn’t come off easily, they sometimes break the fruit which causes yield and quality loss.”

Ultimately, how does Odyssey taste? After taking a bite from the green chile pod, Walker declared, “Delicious New Mexico chile flavor, although very mild.” The new variety’s heat factor averages between 300 and 400 Scoville units.

Watch Walker talk about the new variety on YouTube, youtube.com/watch?v=Eoevm6aXHZI
For a complete list of chile developed by NMSU, visit aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/research/horticulture/RR792/.