Picking up the slack in chile cultivation

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

EL CAMELLO, Mexico – A dozen workers from southern Mexico, the youngest not quite a teenager, tip back glass bottles of ice-cold Coca-Cola in a plowed field just steps from the U.S. border.

They have been clearing rocks under a blazing sun for Mennonite farmer Pedro Suderman, earning about $1.35 an hour. They are barefoot and mostly family.

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Like many farmers in northern Chihuahua who struggle to find workers locally but can still count on a steady supply of migrant labor from southern Mexico, Suderman has been growing more and more chile each year to send to New Mexico processors.

Workers from Guerrero state in southern Mexico take a break after clearing rocks from Mexican farmer Pedro Suderman’s fields just south of the U.S.-Mexico border. Migrant workers come from the south each year from planting to harvest, then return home for the winter. ( Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexico’s chile acreage has shrunk by nearly half over the past 15 years, from a peak of 17,500 acres in 2005 to 9,200 acres last year, and total production has fallen as well. Mexican farmers have been picking up the slack.

Dino Cervantes

Chihuahua state alone is today planting roughly 90,000 acres of chile – an area equivalent to “every bit of agriculture south of Elephant Butte” in New Mexico, according to Dino Cervantes, head of chile producer Cervantes Enterprises Inc. in the Mesilla Valley.

Farmers in chile, pecans and onions south of the border “are going gangbusters,” Cervantes said, thanks to better access to migrant labor. “They only have access to labor through a similar process we used to do here: agriculture labor migrating from parts of the country to this area. The majority of the labor is…

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