Home of the Chile Pepper Institute
Last week, we highlighted the breeding activities of the Aggies of Texas A&M University. This week, we are again focusing on the Aggies, but those of New Mexico State University (NMSU) which was founded in 1890 as Las Cruces College. We picked New Mexico as the next stop on our tour of U.S. land-grant universities because today is its 109th anniversary of statehood. Admitted to the United States on January 6, 1912, New Mexico is the 47th state. You read that right, although it was not named New Mexico State University until 1960, the university predates the state.
As a neighbor of Texas, agricultural production in the Land of Enchantment has some similarities in terms of commodities, if not scale. For starters, livestock is by far the largest driver of the state’s agricultural economy, just as in Texas. Both states grow cotton, corn, and wheat, too. However, there are some substantial differences. For example, NMSU is home to the Chile Pepper Institute, which automatically vaults them up the short list of Medius Ag’s favorite universities in the country.
In conjunction with the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the New Mexico Department of Agriculture reports the state boasted an agricultural economy of $3.44 billion in 2019, of which $2.43 billion, or about 70 percent, came from livestock. An additional $303 million came from farm-related income and leaving a balance of $706 million of statewide agricultural income that came from crops. Roughly $50 million of that came from chile production, making it the top chile pepper-producing state in the country and a natural home for the Chile Pepper Institute. For perspective, the rest of the country combined for $13.7 million in chile production.
Unexpectedly, New Mexico is the top U.S. producer of pecans as well, ahead of other major pecan-producing states of Georgia, Texas, Arizona, and Oklahoma. In fact, at $165 million, the production value of pecans in New Mexico exceeds all other crops in the state except for hay, including cotton, corn, wheat, and peanuts in addition to chile peppers. NMSU’s pecan research is directed by Dr. Jennifer Randall and focuses on several aspects of pecan production.
To support New Mexico’s $100 million onion industry, NMSU is also home to an Onion Breeding Program that has released a substantial number of cultivars since 1980. Other breeding efforts at NMSU focus on peanuts, cotton, and alfalfa, but none in our humble opinion are more important than the Chile Pepper Institute.