LAS CRUCES - Growers can feast their eyes on rare side-by-side comparisons of top chili varieties at New Mexico State University's first annual chili field day Aug. 10 at the Leyendecker Plant Science Center near Las Cruces.

The chili variety trial includes cayenne and jalapeño, along with green and red peppers, from four major seed producing companies and two universities, NMSU and Texas A&M.

"This is a unique opportunity to see how the products of these different companies compare to each other in New Mexico," said Stephanie Walker, vegetable specialist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "This head-to-head competition is something that many growers haven't seen before."

Registration for the free, half-day program begins at 7:30 a.m. at the center 8 miles southeast of Las Cruces on Highway 28. Presentations are from 8 a.m. to noon, followed by lunch.

The current growing season has been a trial by fire for many southern New Mexico growers, said John White, Doña Ana County horticulture agent with NMSU Extension. Heavy winter rains created prime conditions for a deadly plant disease called curly top. Curly top kills plants or stunts their growth so they only bear a few misshapen fruits.

A featured speaker will be Rebecca Creamer, an NMSU virologist, who will discuss successful production strategies for battling the virus.

Chili producers will also get an update on a new chili root growth study from Mark Renz, a weed specialist with NMSU Extension. Using a device known as a rhizotron, NMSU researchers have inserted a glass tube containing a camera to photograph the chili plant's roots at various growth stages.

The ongoing study looks at root growth using furrow versus drip irrigation, and direct seeding versus transplanting, Walker said. The goal is to improve production practices in New Mexico, she said.

In addition, Walker will report on NMSU's chili variety trials. Paul Bosland, chili breeder with New Mexico State University's Agricultural Experiment Station, will provide an update on the university's long-running pepper breeding program.

Olivia Carver, an NMSU entomologist, will cover results of insecticide and fungicide chili trials, and Stephen Thomas, an NMSU nematologist, will report on management of root knot nematode in chili.

Ryan Herbon, an engineer with NMSU's Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center, will provide an overview of new engineering projects, including the recent commercialization of a mechanical chili thinner.

Erin Silva, an agronomy and horticulture physiologist, will discuss developments in NMSU's chili physiology program, and Soumaila Sanogo, an NMSU plant pathologist, will update producers on soil borne disease research.

The state's chili industry contributes about $400 million annually to the local economy, including $300 million worth of peppers and processed goods and about $100 million that growers pump into local businesses for supplies and inputs, said Rhonda Skaggs, an agricultural economics professor at NMSU.

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 Walker at (505) 646-5280 or swalker@nmsu.edu before the event.