Chili peppers predicted to be hot commodity
August 20, 1999
From Correspondent Jennifer Auther
(CNN) -- In the Southwest, adverse weather and a plant virus have caused major damage to the chili pepper crop. The shortage could affect production of salsa, which for the fifth year in a row is ranked as America's favorite condiment.
A mild winter, a windy spring and a virus called curly top have left many restaurants and processors scrambling to meet the demands of chili connoisseurs.
The curly top virus is spread by an insect called the beet leafhopper. Though farmers battle the virus every year, this year's weather made the problem worse.
Cold weather in winter usually decreases the insect population. Each winter, chili pepper farmers like to see two or three weeks of temperatures in the teens at night, but there were very few nights like that this past winter.
Border Foods in Deming, New Mexico, which processes 1.4 million pounds of chilies a day, said limited supply is driving prices higher.
"We had to contract additional tonnage early in the spring.... The customers that are buying finished product will see some increases," Border Foods President Steven Moore said.
New Mexico has lost 20 percent of its chili crop, making it the worst crop in 60 years, according to Joe Lujan of Lujan Farms.
"The estimated losses of this year, it's over $30 million in the Hatch and Las Cruces Valley," Lujan said.
Lujan Farms plays a big part in helping New Mexico provide between 35 and 40 percent of the nation's chili peppers.
This year agronomists predict New Mexico's highly coveted contribution will drop to 15 percent. The shortage will affect both the green and red chilies.
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