The challenges remain — cheaper foreign imports, a 73-percent crop acreage decline in the last 20 years, crop diseases, and farm labor uncertainties — which point to continued tests for the New Mexico chile pepper industry.

A new piece of legislation may help rekindle prosperity for the New Mexico chile industry.

Introduced by State Representative Andy Nuñez, New Mexico’s Legislature last year passed, and Gov. Susana Martinez signed, the New Mexico Chile Advertising Act (NMCAA). The New Mexico chile industry is banking that the law will crack down on New Mexico chile imposters.

On July 1, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) will begin NMCAA enforcement.

The NMCAA has some teeth to it. The final bill language reads, “It is unlawful for a person to knowingly advertise, describe, label, or offer for sale chile peppers as New Mexico chile, or to advertise, describe, label, or offer for sale a product as containing New Mexico chile unless the chile peppers or chile peppers in the product were grown in New Mexico.”

This law is meant to stop companies from selling chile products claimed to contain New Mexico-grown chile when in fact the pods were grown outside of New Mexico.

“If it’s called New Mexico chile then it should be grown in New Mexico,” said Gene Baca, the New Mexico Chile Association’s (NMCA) outgoing president. Baca is senior vice-president for Bueno Foods Inc. in Albuquerque, N.M.

The NMCA helped craft the legislation and worked with the NMDA in the rule-making process. The details of the law were discussed at the 2012 New Mexico Chile Conference held in Las Cruces in February.

“We didn’t get everything we wanted from NMDA but we have a really good start,” Baca said. “We (now) have a real basis to protect the name ‘New Mexico chile’.”

Chile is New Mexico’s signature crop with a deep heritage eclipsing across generations of New Mexico farm families. The New Mexico chile industry supports the law. Some believe the act needed more teeth since the NMCAA only covers chiles sold in New Mexico versus nationwide or internationally. Chile leaders believe the act is a starting point.

Incoming NMCA President Dino Cervantes told the group, “Our No. 1 success story last year was the Chile Advertising Act. We listened to growers and processors for their thoughts on the Act. The conclusion was it wasn’t enough. We knew this.” Cervantes is a partner in Cervantes Enterprises located in La Mesa, N.M.

NMDA has fresh and processed chile verification forms which require sellers to prove the origin of chile to New Mexico buyers if the chiles are touted as New Mexico grown.

“If you’re calling it New Mexico chile you have to file the verification forms,” said Ray Johnson, NMDA’s assistant director of standards and consumer services.