New Mexican-type red and green chile (Capsicum annuum) is important to New Mexico’s identity and economy. Producers began experimenting with mechanical harvest in the mid-1960s, but efforts stalled in the 1970s. Adverse impact to production following the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement spurred renewed interest in chile mechanization. Through private and public collaboration, the red chile industry in New Mexico has successfully transitioned with more than 80% of domestic acreage currently mechanized. Green chile has proven to be more challenging with fruit damage and lack of efficient mechanical stem removal posing key obstacles. Recent identification and developments in equipment have provided necessary components for mechanization of green chile, but must be scaled-up to production volumes.
Stephanie J. Walker and Paul A. Funk
Israel S. Joukhadar, Stephanie J. Walker, and Paul A. Funk
New mexico pod–type green chile (Capsicum annuum) is one of New Mexico’s leading horticultural commodities. Cultivated acreage of green chile in New Mexico is threatened because of the high cost and insufficiently available labor for hand harvest. Therefore, mechanization is necessary to sustain the industry. Successful mechanization depends on harvester design coupled with plant architecture that optimizes harvest yield and quality. Harvested green fruit must be whole, unbroken, and unblemished for fresh and processed markets, so harvester design and plant architecture must maximize yield while minimizing fruit damage. In two trials conducted at the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center in Los Lunas, six cultivars (AZ-1904, Machete, PHB-205, E9, PDJ.7, and RK3-35) were evaluated for plant architecture and harvest efficiency with a double, open-helix mechanical harvester with two counter-rotating heads. Cultivars were direct seeded on 17 Apr. 2015 and 14 Apr. 2016 and managed according to standard production practices. Plant architecture traits, plant width, plant height, height to first primary branch, distance between first primary branch and first node, basal stem diameter, and number of basal branches were measured before harvest. Mechanical harvest yield components, which included marketable fruit, broken fruit, ground fall losses, unharvested fruit remaining on branches, and nonpod plant material, were assessed after once-over destructive harvests on 2 Sept. 2015 and 31 Aug. 2016. Fruit width, fruit length, and pericarp thickness were measured from a representative sample of 10 marketable fruit. In 2015, ‘AZ-1904’ and ‘PDJ.7’ had significantly (P ≤ 0.05) more marketable yield than ‘Machete’ that had the least marketable yield. No statistically significant differences were found in marketable yield in 2016. When both years were combined, ‘PDJ.7’ had significantly more nonpod plant material harvested and the plants were taller than all other cultivars. We found mechanical harvest performance to be significantly affected by plant height, with shorter plants yielding less marketable fruit. Despite differences in fruit wall thickness, no significant differences were measured in broken fruit. In 2015, ‘AZ-1904’ had significantly less basal branches per plant, reducing obstruction for the picking mechanism. Harvest efficiencies (marketable harvested fruit yield as a percentage of total plot yields) ranged from 64.6% to 39.3% during this 2-year trial, with the highest harvesting cultivars PDJ.7 and AZ-1904. In the future, all new mexico pod–type green chile breeding efforts for mechanical harvest must incorporate desirable plant architecture traits to increase harvest efficiencies.