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New Mexico taps US pandemic relief to help harvest chile

August 13, 2021 GMT
This July 12, 2021 image shows green and red chile ristras on display at a roadside stand in Hatch, New Mexico. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
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This July 12, 2021 image shows green and red chile ristras on display at a roadside stand in Hatch, New Mexico. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
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This July 12, 2021 image shows green and red chile ristras on display at a roadside stand in Hatch, New Mexico. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico will use federal relief funds to boost wages among chile pickers and processors to $19.50 an hour in an effort to ensure adequate labor.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham released new details Thursday of the state’s strategy to ensure a complete harvest of its most iconic crop.

The administration announced last week that it would funnel up to $5 million in federal pandemic relief to shore up the harvest of New Mexico’s renowned green and red chile crop. Harvest typically takes place in late summer and early fall, arriving a few weeks early this year as farmers increase reliance on seedlings to jumpstart the crop.

“It is an all-important symbol of New Mexican agriculture and commerce,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “I will do everything in my power to support the industry in their efforts to harvest and process a successful 2021 crop.”

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The wage subsidies are through chile growers, labor contractors and processors.

Chile is a roughly $50 million annual cash crop for New Mexico farmers that would ideally employ about 3,000 people at farms and processing plants during the harvest, according to the New Mexico Chile Association.

Some Republican state legislators want the state to cut off a $300 weekly federal supplement to unemployment benefits in hopes of increasing the farm-labor supply.

Lujan Grisham says agricultural labor shortages are a persistent industry issue in New Mexico and beyond. She is running for reelection in 2022.