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NMSU Chile Conference Targets Agroterrorism

LAS CRUCES - To strengthen New Mexico's ability to combat terrorist attacks against agriculture, agroterrorism will be one of the centerpieces of the 2003 New Mexico Chile Conference on Feb. 4 at the Hilton Las Cruces.

A specially commissioned poster by noted graphic artist Louis Ocepek, commemorating the first decade of New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute, is one of the featured highlights of the 2003 New Mexico Chile Conference, which begins Feb. 4 at the Hilton Las Cruces. (12/19/2002) (NMSU Agriculture Communications Photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

While not a primary target, chile pepper production is still part of the nation's stunningly efficient food processing system and shares the risk of potential attack and the spread of contamination. The consequences of an agricultural attack - social, economic and political - would be devastating, conference organizers say.

"Certainly, processing within the food systems is a potential point of introduction of an agent," said Mike Harrington, the chile conference's keynote speaker and executive director of the Western Association of Agricultural Experiment Directors at Colorado State University. "In addition, there are a number of plant and animal diseases that have the potential for causing a great deal of havoc."

Agroterrorism updates will include the activities of the one-year-old Homeland
Agricultural Security Taskforce, including new responsibilities of the region's agricultural colleges and agricultural experiment stations. Possible solutions under review include developing of new resistant plant varieties and animal disease vaccines.

One tool that will help New Mexico producers is creation of a national disease diagnostic network for both plants and animals, Harrington said. Cooperating labs will look for intentional introduction of agents, and provide access to the latest technology to combat agroterrorism.

"Agroterrorism is something we all need to be more aware of," said Paul Bosland, conference co-chairman and a chile breeder with NMSU's Agricultural Experiment Station. "We're not trying to scare the bejesus out of anyone. The goal is to let people know that the best people in the world are working on this problem, including many here at New Mexico State University."

Sponsored by NMSU's Chile Pepper Institute, the one-day program brings together some of the hottest names in the world of peppers, including more than 350 chile growers, processors and researchers from across the world. "Anyone who is somebody in the world of chile attends," Bosland said. "It's a great time to network."

Attractions include more than 25 supplier and manufacturer booths, technical and special sessions for chile professionals, said John White, DoZa Ana County horticultural agent with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. The conference features the latest findings in chile research and presentations from NMSU's Extension specialists, and industry leaders.

In addition to Harrington's morning talk, Stephanie Walker, an NMSU chile breeder, will give her insights on new variety development. Other presentations include updates on herbicide research, NMSU's Chile Pepper Task Force, Chile Pepper Institute and the New Mexico Chile Commission.

Afternoon breakout sessions offer more in-depth content on chile processing from Nancy Flores, an NMSU Extension food technologist. Lee Hosey, vice president of J. Harper Associates in Littleton, Colo., will examine powder milling and metal detection.

Ed Hughs, research leader in harvest cleaning equipment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Southwestern Cotton Ginning Research Laboratory in Las Cruces, will present a review of current research on mechanical chile harvesting and cropping systems. A poster session with graduate student research is the final item on the day's agenda.

Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. and the program starts at 8:30 a.m. Prior to Jan. 31 the cost for the conference is $75, after that it's $95.

In conjunction with the chile conference, the annual welcome reception will be held the evening of Feb. 3. This year's program will celebrate the 10th anniversary of NMSU's Chile Pepper Institute. The institute is a self-supporting research facility at the university dedicated to chile pepper science. Once picked and processed, chile is New Mexico's most valuable vegetable, worth more than $200 million annually.

Fiery Foods and Barbecue Business magazine will host the evening event at the Hilton from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The gathering features a silent auction of chile-related items. As part of
the festivities, Louis Ocepek, noted graphic artist and former head of NMSU's art department, will be on hand to autograph a specially commissioned poster commemorating the institute's first decade. The $15 poster is available from the Chile Pepper Institute.

"We're very proud of it," said Danise Coon, the institute's assistant director. "It's quite unique and vibrant."

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 Coon at (505) 646-3028 or send an e-mail to hotchile@nmsu.edu before the event.