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Gov. Richardson Meets with Chile Industry Leaders

LAS CRUCES - Gov. Bill Richardson told the state's Chile Task Force this week that he supports a $250,000 legislative request to establish annual funding for the group. He said he would look into streamlining the processing, transportation and labor regulations for the industry.



Gov. Bill Richardson, center, discusses new initiatives aimed at streamlining chile industry regulations with state Rep. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces, left, and Bill Hume, the governor's director of policy and issues, during a meeting of the New Mexico Chile Task Force in Las Cruces. The task force, based at New Mexico State University, works to increase the profitability and ensure the long-term viability of the region's chile industry. (08/05/2004) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

"It was a very promising and productive meeting," said Richard Phillips, a project manager with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service and coordinator of the Chile Task Force. "We couldn't be happier with the direction of the discussion."

The Chile Task Force, formed in 1998, works to keep the state's chile industry profitable. It includes growers, harvester manufacturers, processors and NMSU scientists and Cooperative Extension Service specialists.

A spokesperson for the governor's office said Bill Hume, Richardson's director of policy and issues, has been assigned to monitor progress with the task force and share reports with appropriate agencies.

Key points addressed at the meeting, which was held at the New Mexico Department of Agriculture's headquarters building in Las Cruces, included reducing paperwork for chile processors, along with more uniform regulations for the amount of strapping required to hold wooden chile boxes on trucks as they're moved from field to processing plant.

"The fact that the governor took the time to meet with us is a huge step forward," said Dino Cervantes, task force chairman and general manager of Cervantes Enterprises in La Mesa. "Regulatory cooperation to resolve problems is increasingly important. Sometimes we have questions that need to be answered."

Other topics discussed included developing a degree program in food technology at NMSU, offering incentives for water conservation and creating a program promoting New Mexico as the "Chile Capital of the World."

New Mexico, West Texas and eastern Arizona represent more than 90 percent of the United States' chile production, said David Layton, crop field production manager for Border Foods in Deming.

Once picked and processed, chile is the state's most valuable vegetable, raking in more than $400 million annually, in addition to supporting some 5,000 permanent jobs in New Mexico, Phillips said.

This summer, NMSU researchers have been demonstrating an upgraded version of a machine that economically thins chile fields.

The thinner, which uses an electronic sensor ahead of a cutting blade, can slice costs to $35 an acre, which includes tractor expenses, fuel costs, thinner purchase and maintenance costs. Hand-thinning costs range from $75 to $150 an acre, not including liability insurance.

"The task force's primary goal is to increase the profitability and ensure the long-term viability of the region's chile industry," Phillips said. "It's imperative that we maintain our momentum in these research and development activities. We'll do all we can to follow up with the governor's office on these important issues."