Westley Suarez ties slip knots around red pepper stems for hanging and storage.
Russell Huffman | El Defensor Chieftain photos

The New Mexico Chile Taste Off is set for Oct. 8 in Socorro and promises to be filled with fun and competition as the world’s best chile growers go head-to-head on a local and regional basis.

“We’ve got about 12 judges, and we will compete locally, and then we’re going to do region to region, north and south, middle valley, southern valley,” Glen Duggins said.

As president of the New Mexico Chile Grower’s Association, Duggins passion burns as hot as some of the extra spicy peppers in his fields.

“It’s all to bring awareness to the chile industry,” he said.

What do judges look for while chile tasting?

“They’re going to look for texture and taste,” Duggins said. “Honestly, whichever one they like the best. And if it’s texture, if it’s a color, if it’s spice — all of those things combined.”

Miss New Mexico Suzanne Perez is set to be among the judges who will determine the winners.

This year’s green chile harvest has been good for some and bad for others like Duggins, who has watered his crops during dry spells only to see it rain the next day. Nearly a foot of rain fell during July, and continued rains delayed harvest and allowed mold and disease to set in.

Don’t get Duggins started about what he considers overregulation and foot-dragging when it comes to critical environmental issues like water. He’s as passionate about those things as he is the chile he grows.

Today’s New Mexico farmers face everything from labor shortages to southern farmers importing Mexican chile and passing it off as grown in the state.

That’s right, the bargain-basement 35-pound bag of chile you shipped to your parents might not be the real thing.

It’s not one big thing hurting New Mexico chile, but a ton of small things are chipping away at an industry getting smaller and smaller.

Duggins can recount tales from the beginning of his farming career, where the rows of peppers doubled every year. In the last decade, a hundred acres of production has shrunk to 30.

An industry in trouble is why the New Mexico Chile Association and the New Mexico Certified Chile are teaming up with Socorro County and the city of Socorro and sponsoring the New Mexico Chile Taste Off.

“People are forgetting how good fresh green chile is to eat,” Duggins said. “They can go to the grocery store and buy it in a can.”

Of course, that’s convenient, but many stores only focus on green chile for a short-time period, and the growers down in Hatch have become media darlings.

Now the Hatch growers will have to back up all that hype in Socorro. You don’t have to love green chile to attend because there’s live music, vendors and a cash bar. Red and green fireworks will close the day.

A parade starts at 10 a.m., the Socorro Rodeo and Sports Complex gates open at 3 p.m., and the judging will get underway at 4:30 p.m.