2010 New Mexico chile pepper production is down, largely due to lower prices for the commodity.

“A lot of farmers have significantly reduced acreage, there’s been a large step down in production,” said Dr. Robert Flynn, New Mexico State University Extension agronomist in early September. “Where they once might have been growing six pivot’s worth of peppers on one farm, they’re now down to one or two. That’s certainly the main thing that’s affected the industry this year.”

As far as crop quality, “things seem to be on track. The crop got off to a bit of a slow start because of the early spring weather conditions we experienced. Between the rains and cold weather, it was tough early.”

When “the summer finally woke up, weather conditions were nice and hot. The crop then started to grow well and has, for the most part, caught up. We’ve had normal disease incidences, nothing extraordinary. The 2010 crop is good – not great.

“Our chilies here at the farm have done really well considering everything stacked against them at the beginning of the season. Luckily, we planted on time, pest pressure was low and never really built to treatment levels. We’ve had only a bit of the viruses that come in with the leaf hoppers. It’s been a low leaf hopper year for us.”

At the same time, Flynn and colleagues have continued research on best fertilizer practices for peppers.

“We’re still working with fertilizer. This year, we began a project with boron. We have a student working on boron nutrition in chiles.”

Many growers add boron in an effort to help control blossom end rot. However, it’s yet to be determined if that practice “is economical. We’ve got some good greenhouse studies going on where the level of boron in the soil can be controlled.

“Right now, we lean towards evaluating your soil test levels and make sure (nutrients) are adequate. Do that before investing in foliar sprays of boron. But this is a two-year project and we’ll see if that’s correct.”

Flynn is an advocate for frequent soil tests.

Peppers are one of the first crops planted in the spring and one of the last crops out in the fall,” said Flynn in an earlier interview with Farm Press. “Ideally, you’d want to soil sample every year. Under saline conditions, it’s best to sample annually. For farms not using organic amendments, depending on what they’re rotating out of, they should sample every other year to every third year depending on the crop. If they’re rotating out of alfalfa, it’s a good idea to go ahead and test – especially for micronutrients, independent of their past fertilizer histories.”

An optimum pepper fertilizer regime must be balanced with “saline water supplies, saline soils, insect and disease pressure, crop rotations and other things.”

And the timing of nutrient (and micronutrient) applications is critical for chile peppers. Flynn and his team want to match key growth stages in a chile’s life with proper nutrient levels and timing.

To aid in that, Flynn and colleagues have tracked some 20 farms (from 10 acres to 120 acres in size) throughout the Chile Belt. Among the things studied: plant nutrition, fertilizer application timing, and tissue analysis.

“We’re checking nutrient content in leaf tissue and petioles to see if those can be used a predictor of adding supplemental nitrogen or any other needed nutrient. From those plots we see the differences between high-yielding versus moderate and low-yielding fields and see if those relate to fertility.”

Is sulfate of potash ever used on the pepper crop?

“Occasionally,” said Flynn. “Potassium sulfate (0-0-50-17S) could be used if sulfate is also needed. Soils that are low in exchangeable magnesium could benefit from sulfate of potash magnesia. That should be determined by soil tests and the need for potash (K2O).”