Growing fresh chile in New Mexico is a lot more challenging today than it was a few years ago, say officials with the New Mexico Chile Association.

Input costs are much greater. The historic drought over the last two years hasn’t helped either. And competition from foreign-grown chile producers has put a price squeeze on New Mexico’s favorite crop, making the state’s tradition-rich chile industry tougher than ever before. So tough, in fact, legislation titled the New Mexico Chile Advertising Act, prepared and adopted in 2011, limits the advertising and labeling of New Mexico chile to only chile that is actually grown within state borders.

“We had a lot of problems with Chile products grown in Peru and Mexico and other places that were trying to claim they were locally grown, and that would confuse consumers who might not know the difference,” said Victoria Franzoy of Chile River Farms near Hatch. “We feel like it hurts the reputation of our New Mexico chile when someone buys a chile product they think was locally grown and wasn’t. It looks and tastes inferior, but the label was deceiving.”

When the law was first enacted some didn’t understand the importance and impact it could make.

“We have seen a difference in demand for our locally grown chile since the law was first passed. This year we renewed contracts and picked up several new ones as well. Most buyers want the real deal and the New Mexico chile advertising law helped to make it more clear what was native New Mexican and what was not,” she added.

Last week, legislation (SB 234) that would amend the law passed the New Mexico Senate Judiciary Committee in hopes of expanding it to include geographic designation limitations.

“The problem is a few growers from other parts of New Mexico started labeling their chile products as being from Hatch when they weren’t, and we’re just trying to keep people honest. All New Mexico chile is superior to foreign grown chile, but not all New Mexico chile is grown in or near Hatch,” she said.

Hatch, she points out, is the most famous chile region in the world, and she believes only chile grown in or around there should be listed as grown in Hatch.