LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) – New Mexico State University is using a grant worth almost half a million dollars to improve chile pepper crops to make them higher-yield and more nutritious.

NMSU received a grant worth $477,074 from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which is part of the USDA, to conduct a four-year study on how to improve chile in what is already the nation’s top chile-producing state.

Dennis Nicuh Lozada is leading the project and stated that the goal is to develop chile pepper varieties that are better for you and can be produced in larger quantities through an understanding of the genetics of the crop.

“The genetics of nutritional content and yield in New Mexican chile peppers is currently not well understood,” said Lozada, director of the NMSU Chile Pepper Breeding and Genetics Program. “We hope to understand the genetics of higher-yielding and more nutritious chile peppers. This knowledge can help drive our breeding and selection decisions.”

Work on the four-year project began this past spring at the Leyendecker Plant Science Research Center in Las Cruces.

“We already have data available and published some of our findings,” Lozada said. “We have the DNA sequence information, and we will be growing our population over the next few years for multi-location, multi-year data analysis.” 

The state of New Mexico produced approximately 68,000 tons of chile worth about $52 million in 2020, according to the USDA.

“Chile pepper cultivars with improved genetic potential can help growers economically and help the industry compete with the world market,” Lozada said.