Growing fresh chile in New Mexico is a lot more challenging today than it was a few years ago, say officials with the New Mexico Chile Association.
Input costs are much greater. The historic drought over the last two years hasn’t helped either. And competition from foreign-grown chile producers has put a price squeeze on New Mexico’s favorite crop, making the state’s tradition-rich chile industry tougher than ever before. So tough, in fact, legislation titled the New Mexico Chile Advertising Act, prepared and adopted in 2011, limits the advertising and labeling of New Mexico chile to only chile that is actually grown within state borders.
“We had a lot of problems with Chile products grown in Peru and Mexico and other places that were trying to claim they were locally grown, and that would confuse consumers who might not know the difference,” said Victoria Franzoy of Chile River Farms near Hatch. “We feel like it hurts the reputation of our New Mexico chile when someone buys a chile product they think was locally grown and wasn’t. It looks and tastes inferior, but the label was deceiving.”
When the law was first enacted some didn’t understand the importance and impact it could make.
“We have seen a difference in demand for our locally grown chile since the law was first passed. This year we renewed contracts and picked up several new ones as well. Most buyers want the real deal and the New Mexico chile advertising law helped to make it more clear what was native New Mexican and what was not,” she added.
Last week, legislation (SB 234) that would amend the law passed the New Mexico Senate Judiciary Committee in hopes of expanding it to include geographic designation limitations.
“The problem is a few growers from other parts of New Mexico started labeling their chile products as being from Hatch when they weren’t, and we’re just trying to keep people honest. All New Mexico chile is superior to foreign grown chile, but not all New Mexico chile is grown in or near Hatch,” she said.
Hatch, she points out, is the most famous chile region in the world, and she believes only chile grown in or around there should be listed as grown in Hatch.
The bill’s amendment is sponsored by Senator George Munoz and now goes to the Senate floor. Companion bill HB 238 sponsored by Representative Rudolpho (Rudy) Martinez passed the House with a unanimous vote and is now in the Senate Conservation Committee for approval. This bill helps give consumers confidence that they are supporting a homegrown industry composed primarily of family owned companies and farms. Together, these businesses provide 4,000 jobs, invest in their communities and ultimately have a hand in contributing $300 million to the state’s economy each year. The current proposed legislation also provides for a small farmer exemption from some of the recordkeeping requirements.
“We have a saying around here: God gave us the greatest chile in the world—the Hatch chile—and the opportunity to grow it. And I believe that. It’s the real thing. The hot summer days, cool nights, and special waters of the Rio Grande combine to make Hatch chiles different and better than any chile in the world,” Franzoy added.
Victoria’s cousin, Shayne Franzoy, serves as lead man on the family’s chile operation and is also on the Board of Directors for the New Mexico Chile Association.
“This Bill would provide further protection for the chile industry from competitors that use misleading advertising to deceive consumers. It protects jobs for New Mexicans and provides the opportunity for future economic growth, which this State desperately needs. I am confident that it will pass.I don’t know how anyone could justify opposing it,” Shayne said.
Franzoy says in spite of rain shortfalls, they plan to plant about the same or slightly more chile this year than last, a sign, at least for now, that the New Mexico chile industry is fighting to keep its head above water in spite of the challenges.