Monday, September 13, 2010

International Pepper Conference: Special Report

True to its name, the 20th International Pepper Conference, now underway in Las Cruces, has drawn people from around the world. Special correspondent Susan Bennett, who is also my wife, brings us this report. -Harold Morgan

The conference is not just chile's, but other peppers...(bell, eg...) but mostly chile, as they spell it in New Mexico, (or chili, as some from other places spell it in some of the presentations.)

Very interesting conference, even for the layperson...about 150 or so attendees; about 35 from other countries...including Israel, Peru, Hungary, Brazil, about nine from various regions of Korea, Thailand, Canada, Mexico, some from India and Bangladesh that live in the US.

I have heard presenters from NMSU, Hungary, India, Thailand, the Netherlands or perhaps Germany.

Lowell Catlett, from NMSU gave a very interesting, and humorous, keynote this morning. He talked of the fact that in his father's generation, they were still working helping to ensure food, shelter and safety for their families, and these newer pursuits, (like boutique wineries, special chile varieties, etc) being in the area of "dream space"...quite an impelling description of where we are today (though of course many in the world still struggle with the basics).

Lots of friendly conversation with attendees and NMSU staff. I've talked to researchers from all over the country that work for a seed company and meet at these conferences; local chile processors; Mexican chile growers; local maker of "Louisiana Hot Sauce", made here with local and Mexican chiles; an Israeli engineer collaborating with US person on a chile harvester. (no perfect machines, though for decades folks have been trying to develop them...machine pickers need to deal with various issues; not bruising chiles, removing or not removing stems; picking drying red chiles that are harder to pull from vines, but can be "damaged" as they are not sold whole; various shapes of chiles to be picked; some plants can't be harvested all at once...some have to be hand harvested...

Others here are grad students, who had their projects presented on posters, or presented to the attendees.

Presentations were on chile varieties grown in various parts of the world; disease resistance; genetics of various varieties; genetic research, breeding and genetic engineering, for disease resistance, yield, etc etc...and I think for conservation...(though it seems there are not a lot of genetically modified chiles being planted yet; "chili" production in Thailand used for their very hot daily diet; competition from China in eastern chile growing countries; chilies grown at different elevations; nitrogen supplements; saline watering affects from using ground water; use of chile for coloring or flavor in foods (oleoresins) : to color tomato soup, corn chips, fired chicken, etc.

Chile in equatorial regions in South America are perennials with some growing as high as 30 feet tall.

Research techniques can be simple repetitive physical productions processes, involving watering techniques, exposure to leaf hoppers spreading curly top virus, etc...

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