Chili conference set for Feb. 1 LAS CRUCES - Using drip irrigation systems to boost pepper yields highlights the New Mexico Chili Conference on Feb. 1 at the Hilton Las Cruces.

"Our focus this year is on improving chili growers' profitability and production," said Paul Bosland, chili breeder with New Mexico State University's Agricultural Experiment Station. "One of the best ways we're found to do that is drip irrigation. Yields go way up using this irrigation technique, and it can cut losses from chili diseases."

In subsurface drip irrigation, water is applied directly to the plant's roots through a series of black plastic lines or drip tape buried more than a foot deep.

Sponsored by NMSU's Chili Pepper Institute, the daylong program brings together some of the top names in the chili world, he said. More than 250 chili industry growers, processors and researchers are expected to attend.

Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. and the program starts at 8:30 a.m. Registration for the conference costs $85 at the door.

A new element this year will be Top Grower Awards for the state's highest yielding producers, Bosland said. Categories include red dried chili, fresh green chili and cayenne peppers.

Other attractions include more than 15 supplier and manufacturer booths featuring harvesting machinery, fertilizer and irrigation equipment, said John White, Doña Ana County horticulture agent with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. Technical sessions for chili professionals will feature the latest chili research findings and presentations from Extension specialists and industry leaders.

NMSU agricultural economist Rhonda Skaggs will discuss the economics of the Southwest chili industry. Dino Cervantes, chairman of the New Mexico Chili Task Force, will provide an update on legislative issues facing the industry.

Other presenters will provide information on Natural Resources Conservation Service conservation programs, along with a new initiative from NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service known as the "good agricultural practices" program, GAPs for short. The program addresses safe production and handling of fresh produce, said Nancy Flores, an Extension food technology specialist.

Ed Hughs, research leader with the USDA's Southwestern Cotton Ginning Research Laboratory in Las Cruces, will discuss advances in mechanical harvesting technology, including prototypes of thinning and sorting devices for chili.

This year NMSU rolled out an upgraded version of a machine that economically thins chili crops. The latest version has a new hydraulic power supply and improved optics, said Rich Phillips, coordinator of the Chili Task Force and a manager with NMSU Extension. Researchers will also discuss development of the second phase of a mechanical chili cleaner that removes field trash and leaves, leaving only peppers for processing.

NMSU agronomist Robert Flynn will review current research on fertilizer and soil salinity management. A panel of NMSU agronomy experts will discuss disease and pest management, particularly a deadly virus known as curly top, which can cut chili stands by more than a third.

If you are an individual with a disability who is in need of an auxiliary aid or service to participate in the meeting, please contact Danise Coon at (505) 646-3028 or send an e-mail to hotchili@nmsu.edu before the event.

For more news from NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics, visit the Web site: http://spectre.nmsu.edu/media/news.lasso