Writer: Norman Martin
LAS CRUCES - Three southern New Mexico farmers were named the state's top chile growers at the New Mexico Chile Conference for scorching yields two-thirds higher than average.
New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute honored Kris Massey of Animas, Gary Shiflett of Deming and Steve Lyles of Las Cruces.
Is there a hot tip for growing so many peppers? "Their secret is no secret," said Paul Bosland, chile breeder with NMSU's Agricultural Experiment Station. "They used the best management techniques to produce the most yield potential out of that crop."
They picked the right variety for their farms, used excellent rotation technique, and fertilized correctly, he said. On top of that, their timing was near perfect.
Two of three top growers used highly efficient drip irrigation systems to significantly boost pepper yields by getting water to the plant at the right time in the right amounts, said Stephanie Walker, a vegetable specialist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service.
In subsurface drip irrigation, water is applied directly to the plant's roots through a series of black plastic lines or drip tape buried about six inches deep.
Massey produced 5,900 pounds per acre of dried red chile using furrow irrigation, or 74 percent above the state average of 3,400 pounds per acre.
The fresh green chile award went to Shiflett, who raised 60,000 pounds per acre. With the assistance of drip irrigation, his tonnage was more than double the state average.
The cayenne pepper award went to Lyles, who also used drip irrigation to produce 28,000 pounds per acre. That's 66 percent above the state average of 16,800 pounds per acre.
The statewide baseline information for average pounds per acre came from the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. The tonnage totals, indicating the top growers, were provided by New Mexico chile processors.
Bosland said while winning yields were high, they weren't extraordinary. "This wasn't like a giant pumpkin contest," he said. "These were real fields being grown for the industry."
Bosland said this was first year for the grower awards and the first time the institute had turned the spotlight so intensely on individual producers.
"These awards show other growers what the potential is," Bosland said. "They may not make that yield on their piece of ground, but it's a goal to shoot for."
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