After years of drought, the hottest issue facing New Mexico chile growers this season is lack of water. Dry ditches have bubbled to the top of grower concerns and have become the central focus of the 21st annual New Mexico Chile Conference on Feb. 3 at the Hilton Las Cruces.

“The sky is not falling,” said Paul Bosland, conference co-chairman and chile breeder with NMSU's Agricultural Experiment Station. “We're going to have a good crop this year, and there will be water available; it just might not be coming from the Rio Grande.

“What we're looking at this year are the different options available to our growers, as well as the development of new irrigation technologies including drip and microsprinklers,” he said.

Despite late-season snows, much of the West remains gripped by drought. National Weather Service forecasters predict a return to dry weather in much of the region, all but guaranteeing more water shortages in the coming months.

“It's more important than ever to get the biggest irrigation bang for your buck and still limit water stress on the crop,” said Ed Martin, a conference speaker and engineer with the University of Arizona's agricultural and biosystems engineering department. “We're going to take a close look at new ways to measure soil moisture, including an interesting device using a microwave pulse. The goal is to get more efficient use of the water.”

Sponsored by NMSU's Chile Pepper Institute, the daylong program brings together some of the top names in the world of pepper pods. More than 400 chile 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 $75 before Jan. 30 and $95 afterward.

This year's conference will feature talks on pressing water issues facing New Mexico, including a Rio Grande basin update by Water Task Force coordinator Craig Runyan, a water quality specialist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. Other presenters will provide updates from the Chile Pepper Task Force, Elephant Butte Irrigation District and New Mexico Chile Commission.

Attractions include more than 15 supplier and manufacturer booths featuring harvesting machinery, equipment, chemicals and fertilizers, transplants and irrigation equipment, said John White, conference co-chairman and Do“a Ana County horticulture agent with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. In addition, there will be technical and special sessions for chile professionals featuring the latest chile research findings and presentations from Extension specialists and industry leaders.

For more information or 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 hotchile@nmsu.edu before the event.u/news